At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.
First off, this is a typical thriller; reading it, you never know what's around the corner. Which, coupled with Skuse's trademark clever prose, means that I read this breathlessly, gripping the edge of the pages in fear! It also had the perfect setting for it, a Hogwarts-type boarding school over the Christmas holidays, cut off from the rest of civilization by snow and downed power lines.
It follows Nash, stuck at school over the holidays with a few misfits, as she tries to keep her head clear after news of her brother's disappearance. Nash was pretty cool; determined and smart, she's a long term boarder and has always wanted to be Head Girl. But Dianna has been nipping at her heels, wanting to be the best, and now she's at school until the New Year too; there's also notorious trouble maker Maggie, creepy Regan, heavily made-up Clarice and little first year Tabby. Under the watchful eye of Matron, they all try to make the best of being abandoned at Christmas until things start to go horrible wrong.
Of course there was an actual monster hiding in the woods! A big cat or some sort of creepy killer-hybrid, something is hunting hikers and tourists and now the girls. The whole novel was fast paced and exciting, there was always something going on, from the mysterious Beast and finding a killer on the loose, to a possible date and news of Sebastian's disappearance. Overall, it felt very different to Skuse's other novels, bit more adult and scary, but in a good way. It was terrifying and incredibly gripping in a 'heart in your throat, don't read it before bed' way.
Published 24th September 2015 by Mira Ink. Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.