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D.O.G.S by M A Bennett - Review

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Warning: may contain spoilers to the first book in this series!

Where did I get it? Amazon a few weeks go. I added it to my "read soon" pile by the side of the bed. 

What's it about? It's the sequel to S.T.A.G.S, which as I said at the time, was ripe for a sequel. We're back at St Aidan the Great's school with Greer, who is traumatised from the events of S.T.A.G.S. At the end of that book, she and Nel and Shafeen have worked out exactly who is behind the Order of the Great Stag, and gone to confront that person. 

However! At the beginning of this book, it is a year later and Greer is in hospital. We don't find out why, though. We go way back to just after Henry dying the previous year, and we see how Greer and her friends can't confront the Great Stag because... he is dead. 

There's a new Abbot in place, Abbot Ridley, who is also Greer's drama teacher. The action then moves to the new year, when Greer is in the upper sixth form. She and Nel and Shafeen are now Mediaevals, eg prefects. Things are different in the school without Henry and his lackeys. Greer is starting to knuckle down for her Probitiones (like A levels) and as a drama student and aspiring director, she needs to choose a play written before 1560 for everyone to perform just before Christmas.

She gets intrigued by a play called The Isle of Dogs, by Ben Jonson, a play that was considered so blasphemous that Jonson was arrested for it and all copies destroyed. Except, legend has it, one that he gave to someone who lived nearby to STAGS, at Alnwick Castle. Then, one Sunday night, an unseen hand puts some pages under Greer's door. It is the first act of The Isle of Dogs, which is about a queen who falls in love with a lesser noble and refuses to marry the King of El Dorado which is what her courtiers are advising her to do. 

Abbot Ridley advises Greer to put on the play, so preparations begin for that. Henry's cousins, Louis and Cassandra, both audition for parts, and even though Greer doesn't want much to do with them, she has no choice but to cast them. Ty, the first de Warlencourt scholarship winner, is cast as the queen. Greer doesn't know her very well, but gets to know her throughout the book. 

She is still feeling really guilty over Henry's death, and is still kind of in love with him and his charm. She finds herself falling for the de Warlencourt charm even more, putting a rift between her and Shafeen (her boyfriend). She is pulled back into their world, with all its allures, but also all its mysteries and idiosyncrasies.

I thought this was such a good book, better than the first. It feels meatier in one way, there's more mystery to get into and I liked unravelling it. I didn't know if any of the story was true and I didn't want to google in case I spoilered myself, so I took it all at face value and thoroughly enjoyed it for that. It is a bonkers book! Sometimes when I read a book I think, "oh, I could have written something similar", but for these books, the imagination is just off the scale and really cleverly done. I love the school setting and the main characters, including Ty and the de Warlencourt twins. 

This feels to me like a perfect middle-of-the-trilogy book. It's got that Empire Strikes Back feel to it (which is the best Star Wars film, don't argue with me) - it is a perfect bridge between what happened in the first book and what will (hopefully) come soon to bring forward the resolution. I don't KNOW that there'll be another, but I bet there will. The ending of the book is a perfect Luke-I-am-your-father moment, so don't leave me hanging. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No - I would really like to see this actually. I thought there was a subplot that could have hinted it, but no 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ty is black. She even says a couple of times that she's not just a token character, which I thought was quite tongue in cheek. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, but it's fleeting and not graphic

Are drugs mentioned or used? No, but some alcohol use

Is there any talk of death? Yes, but it's not graphic

Are there swear words? No I don't think so. 

What criticisms do I have? Again, I kind of felt like Greer - and to a lesser extent the other characters - don't have a lot of background to fill in stuff about themselves. Greer is northern, from Manchester, which I liked, but we mostly know about who she is at school. Maybe this is a deliberate choice, though, because it serves to make us understand more why the allure of the privilege of the de Warlencourts exists. 

They do make much more use of smartphones in this book, which I liked!

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen really good reviews and knew I wanted to get to it soon. 

What do I think of the cover? It's good! It's in theme with the previous one. 

What other books is it like? S.T.A.G.S, obviously but it also reminded me of Dan Brown's books (which I think are terribly written, but compelling stories - M A Bennett is a better writer) with the religious themes and unravelling the mysteries. I also had another book in mind, which I've forgotten - I'll edit this post if it comes back to me. 

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it! Hopefully waiting for the next one!

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