Friday, September 22, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

by Karen S. Wiesner

The Ritual by Adam Nevill is a supernatural horror novel published in 2011. Four males who were in college together decide to take a trip together on the cheap (because the main character Luke can't afford anything else). They strike out into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle. While the old chums begin with intentions of escaping their individual lives (and their problems that come to light as they spend more time together in a harsh environment) as well as reconnecting as friends, it soon becomes clear that these men can barely tolerate each other's company. With conflicts surmounting between and all around them in the deepening disquiet of gloom, they foolishly decide to take a shortcut to get out of the forest. Two of the members of the party are injured and none of them possess anything that passes as survival experience or skills. Soon, they're lost, starving, and all but swallowed up by the dark, ancient forest that's remained largely untouched for millennia.

The thing this book has in spades is atmospheric setting. Here, the natural world is depicted in such a way that the reader's breath is stilled in the lungs, hesitant to reach toward exhale or inhale for fear of meeting a monster whatever way is turned. One reviewer commented (emphasis mine) on the "isolation, dreariness, and enormous age of the Swedish forest setting", which I heartily agree with because I felt that almost tangibly. The isolated, primal world around the characters becomes oppressive, suffocating, blacker and more menacing the farther in they get, growing to almost painful proportions of horror as their waking and dreaming hours are filled with nightmares that are as real as the enormous trees.

I read through most of this book enraptured by the predicaments of the characters. Mainly, I was spellbound with the setting and the imagery the author conjured in my mind. The anticipation I had was buoyed by a strong sense of expectation about where everything was heading. That crawled to a very abrupt halt somewhere near the three-fourths mark of the novel, where I was filled with startled disappointment at unforeseen and unimaginable events that, for me, came out of nowhere and hijacked the story. One minute, I was hurling headlong into a reader's dream come true and the next I was staring dumbly, going, "Um…what now?" If you don't want a spoiler, skip the next paragraph, which I've placed in very small print so it'll be hard to read without concentrated effort. If you don't mind,  you can read on:

The main character Luke wakes in a strange bed in a house literally in the middle of nowhere, all his friends gone, only to find that instead of discovering the road to salvation and rescue, he's a prisoner of a heavy metal band that worships a creature that requires blood sacrifices. What the actual heck?!

Following the event you may or may not have read about in the last paragraph, the story did get back to something of the hopes I had for a clever twist ending. Other reviewers also found fault in this pre-cursor to the end of the novel, so I'm not entirely sure if I'm in the minority feeling like that aspect didn't live up to the captivating beginning. I also kind of feel like both the book and the Netflix film adaptation (which was pretty faithful) de-evolved into something of a gore fest, something that doesn't really appeal to me.

Here's a legitimate question: Is a book worth reading if the end is disappointing? There's another author I hope to review in this column in the future where it happens with every single one of his books: I'm enthralled all through the story, but the end is without fail a huge disappointment. Was it worth reading if I found out that it ultimately didn't live up to the promise it initially had? My answer is that, yes, if I've taken something worthwhile out of the reading, it is worth the time I've taken, and maybe even the investment. After all, I thoroughly enjoyed three-fourths of the story. In the case of The Ritual, I ended up liking the very end of the novel. It was just that weird blip that ripped me whole out of the story and kind of "harshed my buzz" for a short time before getting back on the road I was anticipating.

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Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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