S.T.A.G.S., by M.A. Bennett (2017, 2018)

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. BennettWhat is it about boarding schools that both fascinates and horrifies? I suppose the nostalgia of stories from Enid Blyton to J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts lets us imagine them as a place of besties and grand adventure; the reality of spending every waking moment with the bullies and beasts that populated my high schol is probably more realistic! This novel definitely skews toward the nasty. The subtitle on the North American edition of this British mystery says it all: “Nine students. Three blood sports. One deadly weekend.” From the start, we learn someone dies, and that someone is Henry de Warlencourt, leader of the school’s prefects known as the Medievals. And our protagonist calls herself a murderer, or at least one of them. Social outcast Greer, at the prestigious school on a scholarship rather due to her bloodlines, is excited to learn she is one of just three students (the identities of the other two surprise Greer as they are regularly picked on) invited to Henry’s family home with the six Medievals, for a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin'”. There are so many clues as to the Medievals’ true intentions it is no surprise to the reader. Greer is likeable enough as long as you look past her incessant movie references, which quickly grow quite tiresome, and the toffs are two-faced liars and boors with almost atavistic behaviours – “chattering” and “shrieking” like monkeys when under the influence of wine. It’s too bad; Bennett’s decision to make the Medievals so offensive results in a heavy-handed morality tale that reads quickly enough but with no realy mystery to reveal, other than the obvious realization that the true horror in this story is not the weekend itself but rather in how the elite think they can get away with it. My thanks to Random House for the advance reading copy provided digitally through #NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35154365


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