Disclosure: I received a review copy of STAGS from Pansing Books, a regional distributor, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett • contains 304 pages • published August 10, 2017 by Hot Key Books, Bonnier Zaffre • classified as Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult • obtained through Pansing Books • read as ARC • shelve on Goodreads
One deadly weekend.
A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska.
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...
Standalone or Series?
Before I delve into my review proper of STAGS, does anyone know if it will have a sequel? While it can stand on its own, I feel like there’s more to be told, and I’d love to know if this is going any further. I’ve tried to find out more but there seems to be no news aside from the movie rights that’ve been sold.
Edit: Thanks to my dear friend, Chiara, I learnt that M.A. Bennett is working on a sequel. I can’t wait for it to be released!
Who’s the Victim?
STAGS isn’t a conventional “whodunnit” mystery novel. It’s clear from the opening sentence that someone died. But who? Now, that’s the question! Sadly, I figured that out way too early, so the mystery aspect didn’t grip me quite as much as I’d have liked. Thankfully, there still was more to the book than meets the eye — some really twisted events and towards the end, some sinister foreshadowing of the future.
There were parts during which I felt oddly dispassionate, in that, maybe I should’ve been a tad bit more horrified. Then again, that could have been the point because once I reached the punchline, my conflicting emotions came crashing down. STAGS truly messed with my emotions, you guys! I went from wary to apathetic to shocked to worried, then cycled through all these again. All that, despite predicting some major plot twists. I think the nature of the premise particularly contributed to that.
Another aspect I appreciated was the way racism was dealt with and challenged in STAGS. A couple of characters were extremely racist, while others who didn’t actually mean to be displayed racist tendencies against their better judgement as well. Rather than letting these things slide, most instances were addressed in ways that derided racism, even if the racist characters didn’t repent.
I think racist characters are difficult to incorporate well without sweeping injustice under the rug, preaching or sidelining the plot but in the case of STAGS, it worked.
Points for Originality
Overall, the premise was such a novel one to me (pun not intended), that I didn’t mind that some parts of STAGS were predictable. Starting with the assertion that someone died but revealing the alleged murderer rather than the victim isn’t something I’ve seen much, if ever, in YA mystery books.