Scholarship student Greer MacDonald and her two friends, fellow outcasts, are invited to a weekend with the elites of their private school in England. Settling into sixth term has been hard, especially with the other privileged students, but this mysterious invitation might change everything for Greer and her friends.
Or maybe not.
At the ancient Longcross Hall, not everything is what it seems. Over the next three days, Greer and her friends participate in three bloodsports–huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’–but things get darker and more twisted as the weekend progresses. Greer learns that those being hunted are not just the wild game, but the outcasts that have been brought from school…
This book is dark and delicious and twisted–although you might not expect it at first.
In the beginning, I didn’t really dig it that much. It seemed like your usual “girl gets accepted into elite group & lives happily ever after.” But things get darker.
Greer is a good enough main character. I didn’t care for her that much because she felt kind of bland, but I really enjoyed her voice and how she narrates. She’s concise, but gives enough detail to the readers. There’s a lovely use of parentheses that I found very enjoyable in this occasion. She includes details and chats with the reader as most of the story is an account of what has happened to Greer.
I thought her narration and Bennett’s writing was very good, even though Greer wasn’t particularly interesting herself. She was good at narrating and I gladly accepted the fact.
The side characters were a little more interesting than scholarship student Greer.
Chanel comes from new money, her dad is a phone mogul, which is why she’s also invited to the weekend. She, like Greer, initially wants to be accepted by the rich elite, dubbed the Medievals.
Shafeen is a South Asian prince (although the princely part isn’t very much emphasized) and is singled out for his brown skin. Yet unlike Greer and Chanel, he’s much more aware of the darker goings at the large estate and has an inkling of what’s truly going on.
I liked both of them a little more than Greer because they were more interesting, but overall the characters were more there to tell the story than for you to become immensely connected with. This was the main reason my rating was dropped down a star.
But the plot was the star of the show.
I assumed this was either going to be like Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart where it tells the story of a villain and that’s that (because Greer talks to the reader at the beginning about how she’s a murderer) or a boarding school story where she gets accepted as one of the elite and lives happily ever after.
It was neither, and it’s darker qualities is what made this a much better book than either of the ones mentioned.
There’s this huge undercover plot and conspiracy that just grows and snowballs and doesn’t let you go even during the very last page where Bennett writes
Oh god, I really hope there’s a sequel because this novel’s conspiracy was so captivating. Once I got into what was happening and the dark deeds going on, I was sucked right in.
The pacing starts out a little slow, but it definitely speeds up during Greer’s account of what happened at the estate. You get these hints along the way about what will happen, but piecing it all together was really fun for me.
I know seasoned mystery readers will probably expect everything that’s happening, but for me, this was such an exciting read.
The dark conspiracy doesn’t just stop at the students that are at the manor with Greer and her friends, nor does it stop at the school. It spreads far greater than that, which gave me such delightful chills.
I didn’t really like how much Greer the narrator emphasized her being a murderer because it wasn’t really true (can’t spoil!) and she was exaggerating, but I did think it worked well in hooking the reader.
There’s also some really great discussions which made this book so much better. The elite students talk about things like “weeding out the weak” and “keeping the population in check” and create all sorts of animalistic analogies that relate with the actions of humans. I found some really enjoyable parallels in this novel which made me so satisfied.
Although this novel felt superficial at first, it grew to be much, much more. It was luscious, it was dark and conspiratorial, and it left me wanting more. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a captivating, dark, boarding school read!
Thank you to Delacorte Press and Netgalley for providing me with a digital review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!
You can preorder S.T.A.G.S. now or find it at any major bookseller on January 30th!
Have you read S.T.A.G.S.? (It was originally published on August 10th). It was such a deliciously dark novel, and I really hope there’s sequel potential in there!