Nine students. Three bloodsports. 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. 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...
S.T.A.G.S is a very... interesting novel. Marketed as "A thriller that twists and turns right to the end", I was very excited to pick this up. A mysterious invite, prestigious school, and privileged, high society types - what's not to love?!
I had such high hopes for this book. I really wanted a gripping thriller with a big mystery to it - this was not that book.
Overall, the book was alright. It wasn't anything special, but it was certainly different. Our main character, Greer, gets a scholarship to St. Aiden the Great School (known as STAGS) which is a very prestigious establishment - and very old fashioned... Medieval level. The teachers are known not as Mr/Ms Smith, but Friar Smith. The headteacher is called 'The Abbot' and they wear a really weird uniform that I believe is described as what monks wear. Yeah... weird. I'm also confused by the fact it is mentioned they do GCSE's and A Levels yet the majority of their subjects seem very outdated - as in, modern history apparently covers the dark ages and not 1900s/post war like what modern history actually covers, although I'm Scottish so it could very well be our curriculum is different. Who knows.
I really don't know how to explain this book to you. I've sat here and tried and honestly? I'm just very confused still. I'll do my best, but bear with me.
The book doesn't really take place in the school, but rather at a big manor house, owned by the de Warlencourt family. Henry de Warlencourt is in Six 2 (i'm guessing upper sixth form?) and is the head of the 'Medievals' at STAGS. The Medievals are a group of the most powerful kids in the school and they basically rule the place. Each year at the end of the first term (they have weird ass term names, by the way, and the holiday is called 'Justitium'...) the Medieval's go to the leader's house for a weekend of "Hunting'. Shooting'. Fishin'" and they invite three outcasts from the school. But obviously it's not as fun as it seems for these three.
Now, the reason I am so damn confused is that it is established in the book that the Medievals are always kids in Six 2. But then when Greer gets invited to Henry's for the weekend, she is told that Henry and his cronies have been doing this for years? Now, I might have just been misinterpreting what was said but like... it seemed very clear to me that it has been Henry de Warlencourt running this school and the weekend trip for years. But it was also said it's different kids? But then the whole place is ran like a cult so maybe that first kid lied to throw Greer off the scent? I don't know.
Basically, this weekend away is for the Medievals to put these outcasts in their place but it doesn't always go smoothly. I won't say more because it is a mystery novel - although I didn't find it mysterious in the slightest.
It took F O R E V E R to wrap up, also. Like just end it there. The author tried too hard to throw in a plot twist at the end that, honestly, was incredibly bleh. I just wanted the book to end but it kept on and I knew where it was going. It was quite a let down, to be honest.
The biggest mystery was the damn school and how it actually managed to still exist. I know, I know, it's fiction. But still. It was highly unrealistic for a book set in the real world and not a dystopian or fantasy etc.
My other big peeve, and this is mostly just an opinion, was the emphasis on movies... UGHH. Greer loves films - apparently. The only reason I know this is because she says it and then brings up a reference to a film every five minutes. Except, it's not a reference. It's "You know the movie X?" and then she'll mention a scene and basically say that's what it felt like was happening. It got on my nerves.
I was also incredibly mad that the author pretty much never explained a facial expression or the like. If Henry looked at Greer a certain way it was 'he looked at me like x looks at x in x film'. Everything was compared to a film. You couldn't just read about Greer walking down the corridors of the manor house without her being in Pride and Prejudice. She couldn't walk into the library without being Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Just constant movie mentions.
I have a theory, though. Towards the end of the novel, a certain film is brought up and it has good parallels with what's happening - as in, not just 'that was set in a house and I am in a house' but it really worked. And then that film is linked in again later on. That was really very clever. I know this makes no sense to those who haven't read the book, sorry. (Probably doesn't make sense to those who have!) But the fact the other films were forced into the book so often to make it seem like that's just what Greer does and to draw attention to this bit at the end actually backfired and made that one good reference etc feel boring. By that point I was honestly yelling in my head for it to just STOP. I can't even appreciate the cleverness of the one good one because of how badly it was set up.
All in all, the book was enjoyable and if I look passed my annoyance at movie references it is definitely worth the 3 stars. I wish it were more mysterious, as I felt it was established early on what was happening and it was more anticipation of resolving issues for the majority of the book, but it was definitely something different, and I'm sure I'll think about this book a lot. It just unfortunately wasn't for me.