F.O.X.E.S

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

S.T.A.G.S | D.O.G.S

F.O.X.E.S was written by M.A. Bennett and first published in 2020. It is a young adult thriller which follows the continuing adventures Greer MacDonald as she tries to save her fried Ty from the machinations of the Dark Order of the Grand Stag. The novel follows on directly from where S.T.A.G.S (2017) and D.O.G.S (2019) left off, so I would strongly recommend reading these novels in sequence in order to fully appreciate them.

Following her trial and near-execution at the hands of the Grand Stag, Greer is more certain than ever that she needs to do something to put an end to the Order. When she receives a message from Ty suggesting that she should investigate Cumberland Place in London, she heads off with Shafeen and Nel to find out why.

Cumberland Place is another residence belonging to the de Warlencourts, but nothing can prepare them for what they find there. Henry’s father – Rollo de Warlencourt – embodies everything that Greer hates about STAGS and his mother, Caro, seems convinced that her son is still alive. Yet the most surprising thing is the way that the de Warlencourts welcome Greer into their home. More than that, they seem to be pleased to see her.

As Greer and her friends investigate further, they find some unsettling connections that further link STAGS to the work of Ben Jonson and, more surprising still, the Gunpower Plot. They also learn that Rollo is planning a hunt at Longcross for Boxing Day. Yet, with fox hunting illegal, Greer worries exactly what the STAGS are planning to hunt. She knows that she only has a few days to learn the truth, or Ty’s life could very well be in danger…

While this series has become a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, I must admit that I’m a on the fence regarding how I feel about F.O.X.E.S. It is certainly faster paced than the previous two instalments of this series, but I did find that it did not engage me in quite the same way. The whole novel had a very different feel to S.T.A.G.S and D.O.G.S, as it was less self-contained and a lot more like a continuation of the previous book. There was also far less of a mystery to be solved this time around. While the story still does have its share of twists, it was not quite as focused and I was unclear of what direction the story was taking until very close to the climax.

Yet, for all my gripes, F.O.X.E.S was certainly never boring. A majority of the novel this time around was spent building tension, as Greer, Shafeen and Nel prepared themselves for what they would find when they made their third return to the Longcross Estate. While I did feel that Greer’s conviction that this was going to be a human hunt did seem to be based on very little evidence (given the sheer number of people involved, this seemed to be a level more extreme that Shafeen’s “accidental wounding” in S.T.A.G.S), the early chapters did do a fantastic job of adding to the world-building.

The novel half-teases at what the climax will bring by further expanding on the literary references of the previous two books. Greer’s sightseeing around London and Oxford brings further discoveries about the life and work of Ben Jonson, as well as revealing his supposed connection to Guy Fawkes. The stories of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle also are once again deeply important to her investigation, as Greer is forced to question if there is a way that Henry could have pulled a Sherlock Holmes to survive his fall.

F.O.X.E.S also managed to revive the social commentary that formed the backbone of S.T.A.G.S. While this was oddly downplayed in the last novel, Greer’s adventures in London certainly hammer this home. The marked difference between Ty’s home on the Isle of Dogs and the affluence Regents Park townhouse where the de Warlencourts live do a great job of illustrating this social divide, while showing that a rich upbringing does not breed better people. This point was emphasised even further in both the subtle way that Nel was snubbed because she represented “new money”, and the overt racism that Shafeen discovers in the STAGS private club. I also liked the way that Greer is slowly acclimatising to the STAGS world, seeming less out-of-place and more Medieval than she was in the first book.

Yet the ending of F.O.X.E.S felt a bit rushed. It was almost 300 pages before Greer arrived at Longcross for the hunt, and the climax took up only a couple of short chapters. While I did like the way that the clues regarding what was going to happen at the hunt came together, the novel did break off feeling even more open-ended than D.O.G.S, making quite clear that there will be at least one more novel to tie up all of the loose ends.

I also did not feel that Greer was really given a lot of room for development in the story. While this can be excused to a degree in the fact that very little time has passed between the two books, the novel is still preoccupied with her feelings towards Henry (carefully ignoring the fact that he did try to kill her), and peppering her third-person narrative with the same random film references. Greer’s supposed encyclopaedic film knowledge is even more problematic this time around, as she fails to pick up on an important clue that really should have been obvious to her. How can she quote really obscure films and yet miss a vital connection to a fairly recent release?

I was also disappointed by how small a role Ty ultimately played in F.O.X.E.S. While the ending of D.O.G.S made her feel like a vitally important character, she really did not appear much in this story until the climax. Still, it does feel as though she still holds some of the answers that Greer is seeking and so I hope she has a bigger part to play in the next book.

The only character who really did get any development in this novel was Shafeen. While his inability to let go of Greer’s former relationship with Henry is frustrating, I did enjoy the brief arc where Shafeen was forced to question if it was worth sacrificing his integrity in order to secure the future in medicine that he desperately wanted. This was a particularly powerful moment for him and I did think that he means by which he made his decision were horrifyingly effective.

So, all in all, F.O.X.E.S was a bit of a mixed bag. While I did not think this novel was quite as strong as the ones that came before, it is still a compelling series and certainly one that I would recommend to fans of mysteries. I can’t wait to see where Greer’s battle against the Dark Order of the Grand Stag will take her next.

F.O.X.E.S can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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