The Ritual comes to us from the keyboard of Apartment 16 writer Adam Nevill, who in that previous novel displayed deft skill in making use of each and every essential element of the horror writer’s palette: a tense and appropriately austere setting, mystery-shrouded and terrifying supernatural elements, fast pacing, engaging characters and a knack for keeping the reader in a constant state of delightful apprehension. Nevill hits those same right notes again in The Ritual in an even more honed manner than before. This dazzling horror tale is continuing proof that Nevill is here to stay - upon completing it I could only sit, amazed, at the horrifyingly excellent tale he had spun.
When four old university friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness, they aim to escape the problems of their lives and reconnect. But finding they have little left in common with one another, tensions soon rise.
With limited fitness and experience, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, things couldn't possibly get any worse.
Then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artifacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry 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 there are some things worse than death...
Set in the frigid confines of a Swedish boreal forest, The Ritual both in its setting and its characters pulls you in from the very start. Grasping the subtle and realistic undercurrents running between four old college friends - Luke, Hutch, Phil and Dom - and getting to know them was substantial enough, in the initial stages of the book, to keep our attention focused. Nevill doesn’t waste any time bringing in staple elements of the horror genre to spice things up between the characters and get The Ritual well and truly started.
When Hutch decides that the four companions and would-be hikers take a turn off the beaten path (literally) into virgin boreal forest to save time and taxing effort on the unfit Phil and Dom, things go from pleasantly bad to downright terrible. It all begins when their path crosses that of a bestially devastated carcass strung in a tree and quickly descends into an emotionally-raw struggle for survival. Nevill chooses to build the tension gradually but not slowly, as The Ritual beats on at a staggering pace, and fully plunges the reader into the fearsome tale he has crafted.
Nevill must be applauded for interweaving the horror elements of his novel with some surprisingly authentic friendship troubles between the four protagonists. As their bonding hike degrades into a race for their lives, the confusion, fear and animosity of their situation takes a heavy toll on the morale and their time-weakened friendships. Amidst the heart-stopping moments of action and fear, it was refreshing to have genuine moments of character interaction imbued with the fear and irrationality appropriate to their condition.
Once things are well on their way, there is no stopping The Ritual. Hunted through unknown and unwelcoming territory Luke & Co. become prisoners of the forest’s mysterious, threatening past and the ominous elemental powers that are still in control of the region. But then just shy of the two thirds mark, The Ritual undergoes a change of pace and scene which is at first disconcerting, but eventually builds back up to being just as intense and emotionally-palpable - more so even - than the first part of the novel. Many will probably find the transition jarring and the second part disappointing, even. In my mind, the change was unavoidable, as there was no way the story could have progressed further as it had been without coming to a premature end. In this way, Nevill was able to keep the story going a while longer and explore more deeply the characters and creatures he had bred.
Pleasantly dark and ominous, The Ritual is the potential delight of any who like a good scare. Adam Nevill allies a compelling horror narrative to strong characters thrown into a starkly illustrated and frightening setting to achieve one of the singularly best reading experiences I’ve encountered. Seriously, if you hadn’t been considering The Ritual before now, I strongly recommend you rectify that thought and purchase Nevill’s latest as soon as you can. One can only thank the Powers That Be at Pan Macmillan for having already picked up a further two novels from Nevill to be published in 2012 and 2013.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Adam Nevill's Website: http://www.adamlgnevill.com/
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