Published: 13 February 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Category: Young Adult/Mystery/Thriller
One deadly weekend.
At St. Aidan the Great School, or S.T.A.G.S., new things–and new people–are to be avoided. Unfortunately, Greer MacDonald, token scholarship student, is very much a new person. She has just transferred to S.T.A.G.S., and finds herself ignored at best and mocked at worst by the school’s most admired circle of friends, the Medievals.
So imagine Greer’s surprise when this very group invites her to an exclusive weekend retreat at the private estate of the parents of their unofficial leader, Henry de Warlencourt. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it that the invitee who most impresses the group will be given the privilege of becoming a Medieval themselves.
As the weekend begins to take shape, however, it becomes apparent that beyond the luxurious trappings–the fancy clothes the maid lays out on Greer’s bed, the elaborate multicourse dinners held in the Great Hall–there are predators lurking, and they’re out for blood. . . .
Rating: 4 Stars
Caution: detailed scene of hunting & cleaning of the kill.
S.T.A.G.S. has a great set-up for a thriller/mystery book, or a film even. There were a lot of classic elements leaning the book toward it, such as the elite group of students, the lack of phone/Internet usage, and so on. The setting especially, from the remote St. Aidan the Great’s School to the manor house belonging to Henry’s family, was well crafted to make the story as a whole even creepier.
Written in first person, the story is told by Greer, a outcast of sorts looking in on the Medievals, a group of six super popular and rich boys and girls. The events of the book are told from a future the reader is working toward. The course of the story unfolds as Greer tells them to us, so while oddities abound and behaviors are analyzed, it’s all from her singular view, lending a slant to it that the reader must decide to believe or question.
Greer is that person who, in horror movies, is set-up as the intelligent character here to talk sense into the other future victims, but ends up being just as dumb as they are (check out the dark hallways, go in the basement after a mysterious noise, etc.). She thought a lot about the differences between herself and the rich Medieval kids and rather than strengthening her character, her observations came across as almost snobby, as if she were proud of sussing these people out.
M.A. Bennett used Greer’s personality and the first person perspective of the novel to make an interesting point regarding society. All manner of sin is covered up by a pretty face. Not just the face evident to have swayed Greer; even after she discovers what the Medievals are up to, the attention paid to her by Henry and the sumptuous glamour of his estate shake her off course, temporarily winning her over and endangering the plan she, Shafeen, and Nel came up with to lay bare the nasty history of this popular group. Their elitism, the thing that protected them for centuries, echoes the real world crimes that the rich and powerful are able to get away with.
As wicked as Henry and his predecessors were, he did espouse some ideas about the nature or technology and the loss of the past that resonated with me. Technology moves so quickly that traditions can be lost if they’re not respected and cared for. Progress can be a good thing, but embracing it fully and ignoring what brought civilization to the future can be dangerous. Some comments were made about the reliance on tech that people have in this age, from young people aspiring to nothing more than a YouTube career to the current state of American politics where a reality-t.v. star with no government experience is now at the head of the establishment.
I liked the times when Greer made film references relevant to her current situation. Her and her dad bonded over films and it was clear their watched list was quite long. There were also some discussions that cropped up between Greer and the others, such as the one about tech and the Medievals abstention from most of it. The discourse on what tech has given and what it has poisoned had good points as well as fanciful, almost deluded ones. The conversation could easily turn from the characters in the book to real world discussions.
The ending was not quite obvious, but it didn’t surprise me. The eerie feeling of having won in a horror movie, only to realize that time hasn’t healed anything at all. There are still remnants of the old order and whatever the heroes thought they’d accomplished, whatever they thought they’d done to win, was worthless because at the end of the tunnel was no light, only more darkness and evil. Greer might escape St. Aidan’s School, but at what cost? The future is grim and there’s no certainty for anyone except for the Order of the Stag.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.