In the lovely bundle of books that Hot Key sent my way as part of my new Ambassador role was the S.T.A.G.S trilogy by M.A. Bennett. Now I love a good YA mystery, so I dived right into this one wholeheartedly.
Three blood sports.
One deadly weekend.
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 blood sports – 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…
Greer is an immediately likeable character, and, as I mentioned in my review of Chelsea High, I was a scholarship girl at a highly prolific private school for sixth form, so I had a level of empathy with her, adapting to a new life. Because that’s what it is, changing to a whole new education system at the age of 16, a whole new life, and a whole new way of living. I remember wanting desperately to be liked, to be wanted in the circles that functioned within the school. So although the book starts out with the line “I think I may be a murderer“, I had a level of empathy for Greer that can’t be explained when she received the Invitation.
The author does a brilliant job of growing the tension, building it up with the beginning sentence of each chapter as well as each step in the weekend. Greer has no idea what to expect, and is as overwhelmed as they hope she will be. Putting the clues together to form the final picture is something that only occurs because the three students invited decide to work together, managing, with all their little rebellions, to form a whole picture of what the Medievals are up to.
All that said, every page was still a surprise, right up to the very end, keeping you guessing even when you think you have it solved. It was a highly engaging and wonderfully exciting book, rational enough to seem almost plausible, and weird enough to stand out from the crowd.
I can’t wait to read the two following books, and it’s a brilliant sign for me personally that I want to shove all other books to one side to grab book two!
Thank you to Hot Key Books for gifting me this quirky, quietly terrifying book.