Book Review: S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett

35912128S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2017 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 304

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of One of Us Is Lying and Pretty Little Liars.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S.

To her surprise Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ – an invitation to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S.

Greer joins the other chosen students at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, and soon realises that they are at the mercy of their capricious host. Over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying reality that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Before reading this book I didn’t really know what ‘blood sports’ were so I wasn’t really expecting a book about a group of posh, aristocratic teens hunting deer, shooting pheasants and catching fish. I had to adjust my expectations a little as the term ‘blood sports’ and not knowing what it meant skewed my expectations a bit. I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t know what blood sports are…

The first few chapters of the book were written in a way that included a lot of summary, which I struggled to get into. Although reference to a murder on the first page certainly caught my interest. Fortunately, it didn’t continue with lots of summary and I enjoyed the writing more when the book got going.

I liked that it was set in England, that made a nice change, and how Greer often thought in terms of films as she has watched a lot of them with her dad, so her sphere of reference fit her interests. I enjoyed Greer’s character and her narration. Other characters, however, were not given much personality. The ‘villains’ of this book were very one-dimensional, quite clichéd, and given no individual motivations. They’re rich and evil and that’s basically it.

The novel is told retrospectively, from Greer looking back on events, giving her an awareness in her narration of what is going to happen next, with the ‘hook’ (non-intentional fishing pun…) of the book always being references to a murder (right from the beginning this is mentioned). There were often suggestions that something worse was going to happen in the next chapter. This is a good way to keep a reader’s interest, but the problem is you build it up so much that it’s hard to live up to the expectation you’ve built up in the reader.

There was no romantic connection between any of the characters, yet two end up together at the end (no spoilers as to who), which feels put in just for the sake of it, to tick the romance box, rather than because there was actually any chemistry between them. It would have been better if they had just been left as friends.

The ‘twist’ that came a couple of chapters from the end was a bit farfetched to me. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I won’t linger, but it wasn’t one of those exciting, heart-stopping twists. It was a ‘really?’, rolling my eyes kind of twist. It was too sudden, there was no set up for it, so it felt forced. The epilogue was very choppy and all over the place like it was thrown together. The twist in the epilogue did surprise me a bit more, but was kind of an obvious decision to make.

There was an incredibly clichéd therapist at the end that just made me sigh. Why do authors keep reverting to stereotypes and clichés for these characters? At least have a realistic therapist, not just some hippy caricature (yes, that is what is in this book).

One thing I did like (because I seem to have said a lot of negative things so far) is how the book explores the issue of technology, how it dominates our lives, and the idea of living without it. The contrast between the ‘Savage’ world and the absence of technology in the ‘Medieval’ world is really interesting.

Nothing really surprised me about this book. It’s pretty obvious what the ‘sinister’ stuff going on is fairly early on. I think the author could have gone darker with this, could have made it so much more suspenseful than it was. The idea had a lot of potential. Perhaps my hopeful expectations of this being an amazing book were too high, but I was left kind of disappointed and deflated.

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