Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett
But because everything was so smooth, and easy, and obstacle-free, I didn’t even question what was going on, or realise I was skipping into the forest as innocently as Red Riding Hood in Hoodwinked.
Pretty dumb, really.
The first sniff I had that something dark was going on was when I got the second act of The Isle Of Dogs.
(D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett. P74.)
A year on from the events of the Justitium hunt and Greer is focused on getting top marks in her final exams to secure a place at Oxford. Drama students at S.T.A.G.s are responsible for putting on the end of year play, and Greer has taken the role of director. She isn’t certain on which play to perform until an old manuscript is pushed beneath her bedroom door. It is the first act of The Isle Of Dogs, a work by Ben Jonson hasn’t been seen in over 400 years. It also contains some striking parallels to the social division she has witnessed at STAGS.
Her decision to cast the play puts her relationship with Shafeen on hold, but it may have wider consequences too. As further acts appear, the play leads Greer back towards the Order Of The Stag, and to the place she thought she would never visit: Longcross Hall.
But why does she still question whether Henry might be there? That particular ghost from her past was supposed to be laid to rest over a year ago …
STAGS was a triumph of 2017 which both hit the awards list and gathered a legion of fans. My first words when I closed the book were ‘MA Bennett knows how to tell a story’. My second question was ‘Did she mean to write a five-act structure?’ (The author answered this during a Twitter chat. Yes, she did, and to tremendous effect.) When it was confirmed that MA Bennett was the penname of an established writer – and one who studied Shakespeare’s work at masters level – I was not in the least bit surprised.
The influence of historical writers on Bennett’s work comes to the front of the second story, as Greer stages the first playing of The Isle Of Dogs in over 400 years.
This real play saw Ben Jonson imprisoned and almost executed, and this fact is the basis for the events of D.O.G.S. MA Bennett imagines what might have caused Elizabeth the First to react so violently against Jonson’s work in a fictional version of the play. Greer receives this a single act at a time, pushed under her door by a mysterious stranger.
Every act draws her deeper into a world she thought she had left behind.
New characters keep the series fresh. The de Walencourt twins, Cass and Louis, are difficult to read – are they different to the rest of their family, or does the same privileged ambition run through their veins? Ty Morgan a complete star. She’s the new ‘outsider’ to the gilded world of S.T.A.G.S, but she’s sure as heck not going to be made an outsider by the established trio. Ty’s storyline challenges everything readers have come to expect from black characters in secondary roles. Think just about every half-term film from the late 90s or early 2000s. Think about the stereotype of the black best friend. Ty smashes that role to smithereens. There’s also a new staff member whose motives are hard to figure.
D.O.G.S did everything I hoped for. It wasn’t a repeat of S.T.A.G.S, but it built on the themes of social division and an ingrained class system and developed our knowledge about the Order Of The Stag. It brought back familiar locations but allowed us to explore them in new ways, and from new angles. D.O.G.S is as addictive and compelling as its predecessor. MA Bennett sure knows how to write stories which bite.
Thanks to Readers First and Hoy Key Books for my gifted copy of D.O.G.S. Opinions my own.