Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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



S.T.A.G.S. by M. A Bennett (2017)
Hot Key Books  304 pages

One weekend. Three deadly activities. Greer MacDonald is a new student at the prestigious St Aidan the Great Boarding School, known to its exclusive pupils as S.T.A.G.S. It is a school where technology is absent, the teachers are replaced by friars, and a group of elite students –known as the Medievals – run the school. When Greer inexplicably receives an invitation from the Medievals to spend a weekend at the stately home of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular boy at school, she is too curious decline such an invitation. But little does Greer realise that there is more to the weekend than she initially understands. Ultimately, she and the other two students who have been invited must come together to uncover the truth about the infamous Medievals, and the blood sports they have been chosen to take part in.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read from the start. S.T.A.G.S feels a little bit like a mash up of The Hunger Games and Downton Abbey, which sounds like a strange comparison but it really works. You're thrown in to the historical and prestigious boarding school, which feels overwhelming and daunting at the same time. From the opening line I was in Greer's shoes, suddenly in a world entirely cut off from modern society and feeling like I was transported in to the past, much like the aptly named Medievals who unofficially run the school. Then things take a dark turn and the seemingly ideal façade of S.T.A.G.S is torn away to reveal a disturbing and rotten underbelly. I read this in one sitting, which for me is something that rarely happens.

M.A. Bennett (I later found out) is a pseudonym for writer Marina Fiorato, who as you may know I was already familiar with through her delightful historical novels. This is her first shot at YA but I doubt it'll be her last because she writes effortlessly. From the outset, you know something has gone wrong – you're told that on the first page. But the journey throughout is gripping and I was sucked in to Greer's story as she becomes swept up in a mysterious and dangerous game. The plot is fast but it doesn't hold back on fleshing out its characters and providing believable character arcs for a novel that feels slim, but one that ultimately packs a punch. And whilst a fun read, it sheds light on issues such as class and morality. It's entertaining but there's a deeper meaning to the story which shines through.

Although a YA novel, S.T.A.G.S has a thriller-mystery spark to it that makes it stand out from so many other Young Adult novels. It's contemporary but the tranquil English country setting gives it a unique edge that compliments the entire feel of the book. It's thrilling and despite the dark elements to the story, I enjoyed the fact that there was a strong friendship at the centre. I like to root for the characters I'm reading about and spur them on, and that's exactly what I did with Greer and her companions throughout. There's definitely potential for a sequel, but even as a standalone this works brilliantly. Definitely one of the best YA books I've read all year.

Overall rating: 4 stars

If you'd like to check out my other reviews you can see them here. Until next time, happy reading, fellow book lovers.

My arc copy of STAGS was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review originally appeared on their website.

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