There are plenty of novels that depict the struggles between the upper and lower classes and their roles in the construct of the social hierarchy class system pyramid and I have just finished a YA novel that mixes Downtown Abbey with Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games.
STAGS by M. A. Bennett is an exciting twisty and captivating novel for young adults (I would say 13+) and is the first book of a five part series. Get ready for one deadly weekend with nine private school students and three blood sports…
17 year old sixth-former Greer MacDonald has won a scholarship to the prestigious St Aidan the Great boarding school, a.k.a S.T.A.G.S, the oldest school in England, where a vast majority of pupils are from very privileged backgrounds. It is a long way from her humble background in Manchester and she is struggling to fit in. Just before the Michaelmas break (Autum half-term to the rest of us) she receives an invitation to the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthiest boy at school and the leader of the school prefects, an elite group of students known as the Medievals. The invitation has three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. She accepts the invitation and is overjoyed at finally being noticed and finally starting to fit in. This dream come true soon turns into a nightmare.
Greer, along with two other students and the six Medievals (3 boys/3 girls), are whisked away to the awe-inspiring ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall for a weekend of blood sports: hunting stag, shooting pheasant and fishing for trout. As the weekend gets underway it soon becomes apparent that the sports are darker and more twisted than advertised and the real targets are the three misfits the Medievals have brought with them.
Overall, I found STAGS to be an enjoyable thriller. It starts with the excitement of telling you there has been a murder and slows builds to tell why. It is an enjoyable story of class and privilege against those deemed to be misfits, those that don’t conform to old money and upper class values. It is a tale of a cult of violence and murder for sporting fun and, as the book puts it, “to supress the plebs” and keep the outsiders in their place.
The story is very well told, creating a superb setting of upper class privilege in beautiful countryside, sprawling mansions and schools, old traditions and sinister rituals. It is narrated by Greer and builds the tension at a good steady pace. Full of violence, twists and turns it does an excellent job of exploring the class system, old money and family privilege versus the nouveau riche, power and how far people will go to preserve their status, traditions and bigotry. The storyline is great and well-plotted, but I did fell that the conclusion was reached far too easily.
It is very character driven and has an excellent mix of characters. The mannerisms and language by the posh rich kids is spot on, as is that of the three misfits – especially that of Chanel who is trying to be as posh at the Medievals.
It is an interesting and chilling story, and it will keep the attention of teenage readers. Alongside the themes of classism, hunting and animal cruelty there are also themes of bullying, racism, attempted murder and suicide so it may not be suitable for everybody.
An enjoyable read with some good twists and turns, if at times at bit simplistic. But it is an engaging and fast read, a good psychological YA thriller. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series (D.O.G.S).
RRP: £8.99 (Paperback) / £3.99 (Kindle)
Available to buy from Amazon here.