Review published on August 1, 2017.
Better known as Marina Fiorato, the author of historical bestsellers including The Glassblower of Murano, Beatrice and Benedick, and Kit, as the pseudonymous M.A. Bennett, she moves into entirely different literary territory with her debut YA contemporary novel, S.T.A.G.S., which even prior to its launch has attracted a major film deal. And it’s easy to see the cinematic appeal of the novel as you read, set as it is in a very old and atmospheric boarding school, St Aidan the Great (hence the S.T.A.G.S. acronym), with a trinity of outsider students and an elite cabal of privileged pupils known as the Medievals, culminating in a three-day trip to the equally ominous Longcross Hall, home of the legendary de Warlencourt family, for the traditional sport of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’. Greer, Chanel and Shafeen are the misfits in the exclusive world of St Aidan’s but their invitation to Longcross seems to be the first step into their joining the ranks of the Medievals. Unfortunately, it soon becomes obvious that their presence at Longcross has a very different meaning and they begin to uncover an horrific institution that has centuries’ old links back to St Aiden’s.
Part traditional, part modern, thriller and boarding school drama, with echoes of everything from Agatha Christie to The Hunger Games, this really is a wonderful mosaic of a novel. The settings are particularly striking and the author creates the worlds of St Aidan’s and Longcross and their milieu really effectively. Although there’s a sense of menace to the story, I felt the actual sports of hunting, shooting and fishing, which are set up as the main trials in the novel, were somewhat underwhelming, and the overall tension a little deflating. There is, however, a very vivid and memorable finale, which again struck me as particularly transferable to the screen, and I enjoyed the fact that the events at Longcross are not the end of the novel, but continue onwards at St Aidan’s and even beyond the book. It did leave me wondering whether a sequel may be lined up and I’d certainly be interested to see where the author took the story next. Overall, I loved all of the different influences that create the world of the novel and its style, but for me it lacked a bit of urgency and tension but I suspect that on the big screen the story may very well come into its own.
Jade Craddock 3/3
STAGS by M.A. Bennett
Hot Key Books 9781471406768 pbk Aug 2017