I was offered a free copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.
“The boy’s body lay twisted on the stony ground. The observer looked down and was briefly transfixed by the sight of the limp, pixie-faced figure staring up at him with glassy eyes wide open.”
A BLOOD OATH
A DEADLY OUTCOME
1955. The polished veneer of a boys’ boarding school in Northern England masks a cadre of wickedness. Seniors viciously torment any junior they deem unfit. Jonathan Simon, in his first term is warned that there are three monsters in his dorm; seniors Flicker, Sleeth and Tunk, and that the code of conduct mandates no snitching.
Simon befriends two other juniors; pixie-faced Ian Gracey and witty, grossly overweight Arthur Crown. During a cross-country run, the three friends take a short cut and stumble into the cadet rifle range. Corps Sergeant Sleeth puts them through a degrading punishment using human excrement. The three juniors swear a blood oath never to allow another bully to abuse them.
Will this oath be their downfall, or will they make it through the school year? Snitching could have serious consequences but keeping silent will break their blood oath.
As Simon, Gracey and Crown try to survive this perilous journey, the constant threat of harm brings their friendship ever closer…
What I thought
I thought the setting of a boys boarding school was genius. Boarding school is by its very nature is intense as you see the same people day in and day out in a very confined space. It turns every mole hole into a mountain because you don’t have time away and to breathe. Its feels really obvious that the author has experience of a boarding school because he understands the ins and and outs of how it works. The school par itself is often the least interesting because the lessons will be the same as a normal day school, its everything else that makes the school different and a perfect setting for a book like this.
Also it’s worth noting that all boarding school has weird traditions. The fact that the teachers aren’t the ones who handle punishment is odd but isn’t that extreme, especially for the time that it’s set in. The idea that the kids should be responsible and deal with their own problems makes sense for the 50s setting, and in a lot of boarding schools to this day things are settled ‘in house’. In a normal school no one wants to grass to a teacher about something anyway but when you live together and share a dorm that feeling is just increased. The boarding schools of the day were supposed to turn out ‘fine young men who would be leaders of the country’ so giving them responsibility over punishment as a teen kinda makes sense.
And when I say ALL boarding schools have weird traditions I mean it. I went to one for sixth form ad used to march into lunch 6 days a week with the band playing us in. We would have Sunday’s off but rain or shine we’d be marching, unless it was too we for some of the instruments but that was only for full torrential downpours
Due to the school setting there is a large range of characters of differing ages from roughly 11-16/17.
I did lose track of the various characters and how long they had been in the school, kids would be in cadets from their third term onwards but they due to starting at different times it was hard to remember if they had been at the school long enough. I knew who the three main boys were and the three main older antagonists were but everyone else blended into one. I think this is just because of the number of them and the fact that they are all known by there surnames apart from some of the first years calling each other by first names as a way of rebelling against the system.
There is no doubt that the extreme level of hazing and bullying happening in the school – or at least in Trafalgar house – is not okay. And the teachers seem to just let it go because it’ll ‘turn the boys into proper young men’ and the idea that the older boys had to go through this and the younger ones will get their turns to be doing the hazing in the future. Jonathon Simon is Jewish and has a birthmark on his face so he should expect it.
You never fully get an idea of if the whole school is like that or not, Jonathon does talk to a Jewish boy in a different house who says it doesn’t happen to him. But he very much keeps his head in the sand and when they get jumped on he says it’s never happened before. I like the sense of not knowing if this is the whole school culture or not, I think it probably is but this house is the worst.
Why I read it
I was offered a review copy in return for an unbiased review but I was interested because it’s a tense book set in a 1950’s boys boarding school. Plus the ‘deadly outcome’ sparked my interest.
I thought the genius of this book lies in the understanding of the ins and outs of boarding school. It’s a really intense book with a range of characters that were difficult to keep track of at times but kept your attention from the first page to the last.
Did I enjoy it? Yes
Am I glad I read it? Yup
Would I recommend? It’s definitely one that I would recommend to people who like intense school thrillers
Would I read again? Maybe
Michael L. Lewis was born and raised in England. After preparatory school in London, he was educated at Stowe School, Buckingham. Michael now lives in Los Angeles, California, has a law degree, and writes full-time. He was on the Board of Trustees for several schools and has been a member of the same book club for twenty-five years.
Thanks to Rachel for organising the blog tour!