THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL ‘S.T.A.G.S’.
I’m going to be honest with you guys here. I got swept up in the hype of this book; everything I saw about it was singing from the rooftops about how amazing it was, and I knew I had to get involved with reading it. Rich, arrogant boys? Check. A weekend in a manor? Check. A bit of student hunting? Well, colour me intrigued. But as I read it, it dawned on me that I had given into the Twitter hype and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought! So, for this review I’ll be doing something different. I’m going to break it up into what I enjoyed, and what I didn’t enjoy. I enjoyed S.T.A.G.S enough to give it 3/5, but it was little things that knocked that rating from a 4 to a 3.
So, what did I enjoy?
The concept of STAGS is fantastic. Three outcast students attending the prestigious St Aidan the Great School (STAGS) are invited to attend a weekend away during the autumn holiday. Said weekend away is hosted by Henry de Warlencourt, the richest boy in the school, and his group of cronies. What begins as a weekend of hunting, shooting and fishing, quickly turns into something more sinister, with uncontrollable dogs, a creepy groundskeeper/bodyguard, and a group of rich kids hellbent on destroying what they dislike most: poor kids.
Here’s where you might hate me: I liked Henry. Henry was a dickhead. Stereotypical rich boy, thinking everyone was lower than him – but being too lazy to dole out insults and instead letting his lackeys do the work. He was the perfect villain for the book; groomed into the huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ way of life by having his side of the family history practically tattooed on his inner eyelids. I think that’s why I liked him so much; he was so blinded by the belief that his was was the right way, that he became the perfect twisted bad guy. It’s one of my favourite things for villains (I like villains, okay?); when they’re so convinced that what they’re doing is right, it makes them more than one-dimensional. Henry had a purpose, and wanted to stick to it to the very end.
I also really enjoyed the Medieval vs Savage concept. Medievals rejected the modern world, favouring the old fashioned ways of life. No TV, no phones, no WiFi, nothing. It was very much a ‘medieval’ way of life, and Henry and the rest of his group were very stuck in this lifestyle. Savages were the ones who were sucked into this modern world – selfies at every turn, whizzes at social media, Youtube stars, anything modern was a Savage thing. It was interesting to see the conversation Henry and Greer had about these ways of life. About what great things the internet has brought (Greer mentioned internet campaigning), and also compared to the bad things it brought (Henry mentioned trolling becoming the new bloodsport) which I agreed with. It was fascinating to see these two lifestyles butt heads (or horns).
The final two pages were a fantastic ending. I wasn’t expecting the twist – and I know I said a spoiler warning, but I’m not giving this bit away! I gasped at the last page and a chill ran through me. How could it happen, after everything was looking up?! How could they have missed such a vital clue? Had they made things worse? The ending was left quite open as things slotted into place and potentially came apart at the newly stitched seams.
What didn’t I enjoy?
Greer. I couldn’t get on with her as a narrator. At. All. She flipped between being head-over-heels in love with Henry to hating his guts, and was constantly reminding us of the things she did that seemed ‘unfeminist’. Please don’t tell me that fancying a boy is ‘unfeminist’ – are feminists meant to completely ignore boys they find attractive? She also referred to herself as a ‘Buzzfeed feminist’, which I’m not sure is a great light to paint yourself in. Her narration distracted me at points – I’d be sucked into a paragraph getting to a tense scene, and then it would be broken with Greer adding things such as ‘obvs’, or mentioning the title of a movie that had me scrambling to try and understand the reference. It broke my visions of the hunt, or had me distracted and not being able to enjoy it as much because I wouldn’t get the reference. She was the main reason for my rating going down, especially with her constant descriptions of the two boys she found gorgeous. It got annoying after the first description – there are only so many times I can read that Henry is blonde and Shafeen has brown skin.
Although it was brutal – the whole idea was about hunting students, and student got hurt – it just didn’t seem brutal enough. Okay, it was mentioned that previous STAGS weekends were more brutal, but from the concept I expected it to be more dramatic and bloody; perhaps more Battle Royale. I wanted to see the Medievals in their hatred for the lower class manifest itself more. I wanted to truly hate them, not think of them as annoying school children. I wanted them to be truly vile to the three outcasts, so that the divide between them was huge, and so that I hated them with every being in my body.
I enjoyed STAGS, I really did. It was just the little things that annoyed me and I feel that personally it could have been a bit more bloody. But then if it were, it wouldn’t be a YA book!
Final thought: Bloodsports with not enough blood for me: 3/5