D.O.G.S

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for S.T.A.G.S. You can read my review of this novel [here].

D.O.G.S was written by M.A. Bennett and was first published in 2019. It is a young adult mystery novel, focusing on a teenage girl and her increasing involvement with a sinister secret society. The novel forms part of the second part of the S.T.A.G.S series, continuing shortly after S.T.A.G.S (2017) left off. Because of this, I would strongly recommend reading the novels in sequence to have any idea of what’s going on.

Greer MacDonald is trying her best to focus on her A Levels, but can’t quite get over the terrible things that happened at Longcross Hall. Although Henry was a monster she is still haunted by his death, and feels partially responsible for it. As a result, she has grown distracted from her studies. She can’t even think of a play to direct as part of her drama assessment.

Everything changes when a strange manuscript is posted under her bedroom door. The document is supposedly the first act of a lost play by Ben Jonson – The Isle of Dogs. This play carries with it a certain level of notoriety. After its first performance, a number of those involved with it were arrested and all copies were reportedly destroyed.

As Greer’s mysterious benefactor delivers more of the acts, she slowly begins to learn why the play was banned. However, it’s not long before she discovers that she will have to work for the play’s final pages. When she learns that the last act is hidden somewhere at Longcross Hall, she begins to suspect that someone close to her has ulterior motives. Could the Order of the Stag be trying to lure her into some kind of trap?

I was actually rather surprised to hear that S.T.A.G.S was getting a sequel. Although the previous book did have a bit of a sting in its tail, it otherwise seemed like a stand alone novel and didn’t feel as though it had any hanging plot threads. Yet my curiosity about this story was piqued. A lot of the background history in this novel is actually true. The Isle of Dogs was a play that was suppressed in 1597 and nobody truly knows why as no copies of it are believed to have survived. This alone is a tantalising mystery and offers a lot of scope for a creative author. However, D.O.G.S is not without its problems.

My biggest issue with D.O.G.S was its pacing. Although Greer rapidly obtains a copy of each act of the play over the first half of the novel, there is a lack of tension. While S.T.A.G.S was a nail-biting thriller, D.O.G.S felt a lot more fantastical with its hints of witchcraft, ancient cults and necromancy. While part of the lingering mystery of the story was how much of these supernatural elements were actually just in Greer’s head, it still gave the book a very different feel to its precursor.

D.O.G.S also did not really play up its social commentary as much as the previous instalment. S.T.A.G.S spent a lot of time exploring the casual disregard that the English Upper Class has towards poor people. While D.O.G.S did touch on this, primarily once Greer is forced to return to Longcross Hall, a lot of these dated attitudes seem to have died out with the removal of Henry, the old Medievals and most of the school staff. Instead, the story focused a lot more on English history this time, discussing the reign of Elizabeth I and the political climate surrounding the creation of The Isle of Dogs. This was actually fascinating and I would strongly recommend doing some background reading about this subject if you are curious – it certainly teases the imagination!

It was in the novel’s second half that I felt as though the story found its feet and its mystery element truly returned. While I did find the opening chapters to be slow burning, the novel became difficult to put down from the point that Greer and her friends deciphered the final act of The Isle of Dogs. I found myself engaged in Greer’s tale in the run up to the performance, as I was anticipating that not everything would go to plan. While the final chapters were a little anti-climatic, and a few of the twists were a too well signposted, the surreal ending set itself up well for a sequel. While the previous instalment largely stood alone, this one is truly crying out for a follow-up to tie up its gaping loose ends.

In terms of characterisation, I unfortunately found D.O.G.S to be a bit varied. I do like Greer as a protagonist as she is intelligent and articulate. I also really felt her guilt with regards to Henry’s death, although could not really understand why she still seemed to have feelings for him. His death was terrible in the last book, but he did actively try to kill her and hurt her friends. Mind you, I also found her frequent relationship issues with Shafeen to be very frustrating. These seemed to spring forth out of nothing and never really went anywhere. I mean, they would never have occurred in the first place if the two of them actually talked about their problems rather than just behaving like toddlers!

The secondary cast also felt a lot stronger this time around. Nel and Shafeen often provide the voice of reason to Greer’s slightly impulsive behaviour, while newcomers Louis and Cass were a curious addition to the cast. Their overly close relationship was a bit creepy, but I did enjoy finding out more about them as I was never entirely sure if they could be trusted. Ty also had a much larger role to play in this story and I am curious to see how she will develop further in the inevitable sequel.

Anyhow, apologies for the short review but I really don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers. While D.O.G.S was very slow burning, it did pick up its pace dramatically in the second half. Although it wasn’t perfect, I was still left curious to see where the story will go from here.

D.O.G.S can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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