Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The Ritual" by Adam Nevill

When four old university friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise. With limited experience between them, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millenia, Luke figures things couldn't possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across a derelict building. Ancient artifacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. As the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn't come easy among these ancient trees...

It's taken me a long time to get around to reviewing this book. The basic reason is that I'm still trying to decide if I would recommend it. I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with it: loved the first part, not so crazy about the second part.

OK, if you think you want to read this book, I would stop here. Seriously.
SPOILER ALERT!! Turn back now, foolish mortal. Wait. Stop. Don't.

Still here? Alrighty then, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this novel.

The first part is your standard camping-group-in-mortal-danger work. Four friends that went to university together have decided to take go on a hiking trip in the forests of Sweden. They used to be best pals, but of course, time has caused them to go their separate ways, drift apart, etc. Hutch, the experienced hiker and leader of the pack, has a nice life leading such expeditions. Dom and Phil have both gone on to get married, have children, and build careers in business. Only Luke seems to be living the same sort of life he lived in university: bouncing from job to job, girl to girl, drug to drug. When the gang gets together, it becomes obvious that Phil and Dom are thick as thieves - and thick around the middle. Neither man has prepared himself for this sort of physical journey, even though Hutch had been urging them to. And you know what that means...

Yep, as soon as the book opens, we've got an injured player. Dom has done something to his knee, something that has swollen the joint and is slowing them down. Hutch makes the fateful decision to take what appears to be a shortcut. Yes, it's the infamous "let's take this trail that isn't very well-marked so that we can get there faster" plot. Cliche? Trite? Been there, done that? Sure. But in Nevill's hands, it works. As soon as the group gets on said trail, you know they're done for. The woods are suddenly darker and thicker; progress is all but impossible. Dom's knee is getting worse by the minute, Phil is whining all the time, Hutch feels responsible for his friends, and Luke feels disconnected from all of them.

And then one of them is killed. Not only killed, but strung up high in the trees, gutted like the proverbial fish. The remaining three friends know there's no way this was an accident, and they're also fairly sure that it can't be the work of an animal. One by one they are picked off by this thing in the woods, until there's only one of them left. He's at death's door, fading fast...

And suddenly rescued by three goth teen/young adults, taken to a small cabin, and held there for the ritual. Yep, we go straight from one line of horror to another. Sadly, this is the section that had me struggling to finish the book. I wasn't crazy about the lone survivor in the first place, and then he's "saved" by three of the most repulsive characters I've read in a long time. This is also the section where things bog down as far as what the thing in the wood is, what the ritual is all about, etc. Nevill makes the mistake of trying to show/explain what the horror is, and when I read his version, I just sort of lost interest. As one of my all-time faves would say, I - the reader - can always come up with something way more horrific than what he - the author - can write. There's also a lot of philosophical questioning going on in the second half of the book, and I really didn't understand why.

So, sort of a thumbs up, thumbs down on this one. Also, some parting thoughts. Many of the reviews on Amazon said that they gang were crazy to go hiking without cell phones or a GPS unit. Perhaps, but the way Nevill wrote this, I have no doubt that if they had had those items, said devices would not have worked. These woods are ancient, and they are evil. Modern gadgetry wouldn't have saved anyone's hide in this story. What bothered me more was the condition of the lone survivor and how long he lasted, despite some traumatic head injuries and open wounds. The cottage he's taken to is not a sterile environment by any stretch of the means, and all I could think was "This guy's gonna die of a staph infection or worse" - and yet he doesn't. Having had someone in the hospital more than once, I just couldn't suspend disbelief on this count. The guy might not have made it even if he'd been taken to a hospital right away, but I'm supposed to believe that he's OK after lying in this filthy cottage for days, in a bed soaked with his own urine, not having bathed by any stretch of the imagination? Um, no. Just not working for me. Maybe I was supposed to believe that the evil thing in the woods wanted him to stay alive, but again, not buying it.

I wouldn't mind trying another one of Nevill's books at some point. Just hope I enjoy the next one more than I did this one.

1 comment:

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