The Ritual – Adam Nevill.
I read Adam’s debut novel Banquet of the Damned last year. Whilst I thought it started well, I thought it got a bit monotonous very quickly and once the mystery was removed or the supernatural element made evident, it removed a lot of the tension from the novel. I find this to be the case with most horror novels. They either need good characters ala Stephen King or need to be very short ala Brian Keene to sustain their impact.
I wasn’t overly interested by the blurb of Neville’s second novel but this third one caught my eye and I decided there were enough positives from the first novel for me to give Nevill another chance.
It was the dead thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition. 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. 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. 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 millennia, things couldn't possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artefacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the floors. The residue of old rites for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. And as the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn't come easy among these ancient trees...
I am so pleased I did. If I had to sum up this novel I would say it is "Predato"r meets "Blair Witch" meets "the Stangers". I mentioned a horror story needs good characters and Nevill has provided four very good characters here. He writes the four English friends so honestly, that you feel that they are sitting behind you in a pub and you are over hearing their conversation.
Luke is the main protagonist and he is far from likeable, however, he is dam readable. Despite the horrific situation the quartet find themselves faced with, it is made believable by just how real and down to earth they all are. This is typified best by Luke’s discontentment at being slowly ousted out of the group and envious of the others closeness. He is also frustrated at the lack of physical ability of the group.
The tension among the friends bubbles nicely as their past is slowly explored and their lives analysed. Only one of the group emerges with any credit but you are never quite clear how much the group are dysfunctional or whether it is just the extreme situation they find themselves in.
The story would have stood up well if the group had merely gotten lost without the supernatural element which is why it works well. However, the supernatural element is brilliant. Despite the sprawling, vast woods, the book feels claustrophobic. You get a good sense of the helplessness of the hikers and the despair they feel as food runs out and the true terror slowly reveals itself.
And then the book changes. Part two begins and the psychological horror aspect of the novel vanishes with it. Initially I hated this change, especially when I thought the novel was going to go in a particular direction.
It soon becomes apparent that Adam Nevill knew what he was doing. Rather than drag out the novel and repeat aspects of it, he introduced a new danger - One that the reader can identify with and is no less frightful. Despite my initial fears that the novel had taken a downturn, part two is actually equally engaging. The technique is masterful as it sustains the reader’s interest without losing what made the first part so great.
The ending brings the two parts of the novel together well. It makes sense and the danger never fully subsides. My preference in any supernatural novel is to have enough questions answered to be satisfactory but also leave an element of mystery at the end. The Ritual is an excellent example of this.
My rating: 8.9