‘In order for the higher orders of species to thrive…the lower orders must be curbed.’ A line to chill the spine of the most seasoned thriller fan. Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018, the deliciously dark S.T.A.G.S is the perfect lazy weekend read.
Our narrator, smart misfit Greer, has won a scholarship to St Aidan the Great School (STAGS), where a wealthy, arrogant cohort of sixth-formers, known as The Medievals, rule the roost. Bedazzled by their charisma, Greer accepts their unexpected invitation to a hunting weekend, unaware that The Medievals idea of blood sports is somewhat different to her own…
STAGS is literally the oldest school in England. Dripping with wealth and archaic ritual, it’s a tough environment for a scholarship girl from Manchester, and Greer lives in uneasy awe of her surroundings and peers, in particular the six sixth-formers known as The Medievals.
Headed by the blonde Adonis that is Henry de Warlencourt, the invitation is to Henry’s ancestral home, and blindsided by flattery, Greer accepts it. Arriving as one of the chosen few, Greer discovers an imposing home of wood-panelled walls, roaring fires, and ‘drinks at 7.30 in the drawing room.’ She also discovers a home with absent parents, and only a handful of sinister servants in attendance. ‘It was with the arrival of the port, dark as blood, that things began to get nasty.’
There are definite nods to The Secret History by Donna Tartt in this enjoyable thriller, a clever take on corrupt privilege and its grim descent into amorality. Told retrospectively, the reader is forewarned of what’s to follow. A prescient history lesson at school, mere days before the weekend, instructs Greer on the life of heartless nobleman Gian the Cruel. His hunting hounds eschewed animals, being set ‘to course and dismember’ another prey entirely.
A gripping and bloodthirsty prize contender.
S.T.A.G.S. is published by Hot Key Books, 304 pages.