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. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is 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., she is as surprised as she is flattered. But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…
If you’ve never read one of Hot Key Books’ darker novels, you’re seriously missing out. I try to keep an eye out for every dark book they publish, and S.T.A.G.S IMMEDIATELY caught my attention. Teenagers hunting other teenagers? I’m there! (*grabs popcorn*)
Let me start off with a very important disclaimer and something that disappointed me a little. S.T.A.G.S is NOT a Battle Royal retelling. Nothing in this story is particularly gruesome or bloody, the hunting is way more subtle. If you were looking for a more horror-like story (let me be honest, I totally was), you’ll have to look somewhere else.
From the very beginning, you know why our main character Greer has been invited to the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ weekend, and I’m slightly disappointed about that too. Bennett could have written such a twisty, mind-fuck of a read if you didn’t know from the very beginning that shit was going to go down. I LOVE these kind of psychological thrillers, and I really think she missed a chance here.
‘In order for the higher orders of species to thrive,’ Henry went on in a measured, reasonable tone, ‘the lower orders must be curbed.’
There was a weird energy at the table, a hungry attentiveness.
‘So what you’re saying,’ said Shafeen slowly, ‘is that some species must not be allowed to get above themselves.’
‘Got it in one.’
‘You’re speaking, of course, exclusively of the animal kingdom?’ asked Shafeen.
Henry turned cool blue eyes on him. ‘What else?’
With those two annoyances out of the way, it’s time to get into the good stuff. The whole premise of the story somehow felt 100% believable to me. Bennett took great care to give her villains a backdrop that worked.
In a world where basically every teen can become an online sensation if they play there cards right, it’s really not surprising to me that the children of lords are feeling threatened and what to go back to the old ways. I could so vividly imagine them walking around the halls of the school, exuding confidence, privilege and power, basically bullying everyone to follow their Medieval ways. Seriously, Bennett, that was masterfully done and so very unique.
On the other side of the story there are Greer, Chanel and Shafeen, and they are the complete opposites of the ruling Medievals. I’m a bit sad that we only saw the story out of Greer’s point of view, but I loved her passion for movies and how she kept putting links between scenes in movies and what was happening around her. Such a subtle way to point out just how much she didn’t fit into the Medieval’s world.
Was this the most thrilling of reads? Definitely not. The actual huntin’ shooting’ fishin’ was surprisingly… dull? Much of the suspense flew out of the window for me the moment we learned what happened. (Oh and by the way, that was chapter one.) I still enjoyed reading S.T.A.G.S so freaking much. The whole world was so original and believable that it kept intriguing me. But please promise me Bennett, after that ending, that you’re not writing a sequel!
Have you read this book? If not, does it sound interesting to you? If yes, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Author: M.A. Bennet
Publication date: August 10th, 2017
Publisher: Hot Key Books