Trying Not to Shoot Down STAGS…

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But it’s so gosh darn hard! Let’s start by going on the prowl…

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Don’t get me wrong- it wasn’t all bad- when I first picked it up I thought I was in for a winner. The opening was fantastic: it captured the voice, showcased the writing and presented an ominous concept. I think I might be a murderer… Very intriguing start- it was just a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t live up to that.

Now I really want to take aim at the main character… The thing is, some of the things I just mentioned as selling points get old fast. Peculiarly, even though I was initially drawn in by the protagonist’s snarky voice, it quickly went from fun to irritating. Everything she said was backed up with bitterness and resentment- which made it hard to see her as jokey and ended up coming across as unpleasant. Here are just a couple of examples of her in bitchy mode:

  • “But underneath all the varnish she’s really nice”- it seems pretty presumptuous to assume she wouldn’t be nice based on her appearance.
  • “crack about her freaky husband”- well that was rude and judgemental of you.

The other main issue I had with her was that there was an over-the-top attempt to make her relatable. There are ways to integrate references- but this was not it. Everything from her name (Greer) to her actions is some kind of movie reference. Look, I get the theme- the book’s literally a retelling of The Shooting Party- only the trouble is the narrative was completely overloaded with these references that it became distracting. The narrative was completely overloaded with it. I suspect this was to make her seem *hip*, *trendy* and *geeky* all at once- the problem with this is that a) a lot of these date the book, and b) they also come across as try-hard. Like this:

  • Twilight, I thought; Edward and Bella. And just like the movie, it was dangerous, it was all kinds of wrong, but somehow it was right”. *FACEPALM*. Ughhhh. I. Just. Don’t. Understand. Why, in the history of teen lit and film, was this what you went with?
  • “I had the talisman of Henry’s kiss still printed on my lips, like some invisible superpower from a Marvel movie”- *groan*.
  • “Reader, I’m going out with him”- in case the constant movie references don’t feel like enough of a hodgepodge, throw in a classic.
  • And also this, cos she’s a *smart* heroine: “here’s why I like the genie analogy better than Pandora. The wishes can be good or bad”- I’m not really sure if you’ve read the original Greek myth if you’re coming out with this interpretation, cos it’s actually left open (also you’d know it was a jar, not a box). No idea why there has to be a competition between the myths though.
  • And finally… “I realise that for a Buzzfeed feminist this doesn’t paint me in a very good light”- I think my exact response to this was a guffaw and an eye roll. If you’re looking for your moral arbitration from Buzzfeed, then I can’t help you. But it does bring me onto another flaw in the character…

Her obsession with politics (like the good, well-trained 21st century teen she is) and her constant need to seem profound comes across as un-frickin-believably preachy. I’ve mentioned before that I dislike moralising books and hate pointless shows of political virtue signalling- so it’s no surprise this got on my nerves. Objectively though, while I can guess that there was a political agenda behind this whole story, a lot of this commentary still seemed out of place:

  • “I thought, completely irrelevantly, how handsome he was. Some feminist, Greer”- You’re right- being a teenage girl attracted to a guy is a real quandary for feminists everywhere- now go do some mea culpas and a hail Mary and you’ll feel better.
  • And for the sake of profundity: “The kind of hunting trolls do is in every home, every day, threatening ever y young person’s mental health”- agree or disagree with that statement, it’s kinda random (also maybe more helpful to teach young people this magical trick called turning off their phone- somehow I think this would be somewhat more helpful than encouraging victimhood).
  • “A reality-TV star can become president of the United States without any experience of government.”- yeesh this book trying so hard to say somethinganything (also ironically almost like it’s sticking up for the old order).

Plus, as I’ve already mentioned, the protagonist’s main characteristic is supposed to be that she’s SUPER SMART. Except- forgive me if I’m wrong- knowing popular movie culture, while a neat party trick, doesn’t show that at all. I’m not remotely convinced she has a photographic memory, since she’s often pretty imprecise. I mean, she’s hardly reciting pi to an impossible decimal place. On top of that she’s fairly clueless about stuff she could have picked up in a book- like what a great hall looks like.

This also ends up running up against one of the biggest problems in STAGs: the smart-stupid paradox if you will. Because the mc, by the story’s internal logic has to be smart and pick up on *all the clues* for where the plots going and leave nice, juicy breadcrumbs for us reader… buuut she also has to be moronic and make all the wrong choices anyway, because REASONS.

And here lies the character’s motivation- because NOTHING she did made any sense. And yes, I’m getting frustrated- but you have no idea how many times in my notes I had to read back “wait why is she doing this? Why is she even here?!” While her two companions have logical reasons to go to the house, Greer is consistently portrayed as *above all that*- but still can’t resist delving into their peculiar traditions. She literally states that she’s obsessed with their world- yet can’t resist bashing Longcross as “a museum”. I was frankly bamboozled by this- cos it’s not like she’s gone to Narnia and *oh, big disappointment* the friendly witch previously bribing you with sweets turns out to be evil (see, I can make references too). I haven’t got the faintest idea why you’d want to stay in this stale house where the only entertainment seems to be huntin’, shootin’ and fishin. Nothing sells me on this old-worldly place- if I was the mc I’d have said “no thanks, I’m gonna Netflix and chill this holiday” when I got the invite- which ACTUALLY SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING GREER WOULD SAY. I don’t understand why the whole premise had to be based on someone acting out of character- it felt like a complete contrivance to create a plot out of nothing.

Okay, now that I’ve blasted the mc, my gun is still cocked and loaded, I may as well take out a few stray hares…

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Unsurprising from a book that can’t tell its own mc from its elbow, the antagonists aren’t any better. While marginally more consistent, they come across as cartoons (the WHERE’S DAT WABBIT kind). Their mean, crazy and got a chip on their shoulder about modernisation. Oddly, for people that have never touched technology, sometimes they speak like people that have spent too much time on tumblr: “Privilege is becoming a dirty word” (which is also funny, cos I’m not sure upper class toffs refer to themselves that way). They’re also thick as planks (they no doubt use to beat peasants)- not realising that someone without money could learn to swim- and naturally have an insanely pointless plan. Highlight for spoiler: well, that’s if hobbyist killing counts as a plan. They are part of a religious cult though… that runs a school. Whoop di doo. Did they learn evil from Voldemort’s Stuff to do When You’ve Taken Over the World by any chance? Could’ve at least blown up a couple of bridges and had one satisfying *bang* to make it all worth it, just sayin’.

This was the part of the book that stretched  b e l i e v a b i l i t y  to the absolute limit. Admittedly, it was ridiculous fun, but the emphasis has to be on the ridiculous part. The plot twist was patently absurd- I’ve seen that episode of Buffy recently where their feeding girls to a snake monster that makes more sense. I guess it just makes sense to go with the crazy- only know it’s about as far-fetched as the Easter Bunny delivering Christmas presents on Halloween.

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However, my biggest issue came from the ending: specifically *highlight for spoiler* that she didn’t kill anyone. There was so so much build up for the “murder” that I was incredibly disappointed to find she’d literally done nothing wrong. Not even manslaughter as she’d suggested it might be. I may be a fan of hyperbole, but this made me feel cheated. In fact, all my issues with her character being a bitter and obsessive would’ve been cleared up if she’d been the anti-hero we were promised. Instead, she’s another dumb, inconsistent YA heroine WHO CAN DO NO WRONG. And if that wasn’t enough, the unsatisfying ending continued with the whole *everyone’s in on it* at the school and the fact that the cult continues its malicious doings MWHAHAHAHA. Never mind that this again shows how stupid the heroine was that she didn’t at least consider that (especially when the headmaster/Abbot doesn’t want them to go to the police and lets the cult followers retain power “for appearances sake”). Never mind that it’s about as unsatisfying as a conclusion can be. Ugh and double ugh. I think I’m done here. Thanks to the great writing and brief enjoyment I got from it, I still gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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And one very dead deer…

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(No actual rabbits or deer were harmed in the making of this post- no doubt they got away from me when the story went gallivanting off in its nonsensical direction)

So have you read this? Do you plan to? Would you have got on with the main character more than I did? Let me know in the comments!