Author: Adam Nevill.
Adam Nevill's third novel is titled The Ritual. This book was released by Pan Mcmillan in May of 2011 and the book reviewed here is an uncorrected book proof. Few errors inhabit this novel, but something else does. There is a mythical pagan beast with horns lurking about that haunts an isolated Swedish forest. It waits for the unwary to happen by. Hutch, Phil, Dom and Luke are the unwary and all four of them are taking a break from their weary work and family lives. These problems are the least of their worries when the beast looks to sacrifice them to unseen gods. The ending of The Ritual is bloody and arguably a tragic one as the protagonist must return to a dreary sterile world of predictability from one of true terror. Certain themes within Nevill's novel hint at this slightly unsettling conclusion.
The main characters are introduced and they quickly find themselves lost. A shredded carcass hints that there will not be an easy out of the thick undergrowth. A dark abode lures them in when an escape is not found and something lurks within. It is a beast with horns, which fills the men with nightmarish dooms. From here on out, the creature will track and stalk them through a church with a foundation of corpses to a witch's den. There will be only one survivor.
That survivor is Luke (oops, spoiler). Luke is the survivor but he is also a tool by which Nevill explores his themes: whether to choose surviving with the group over surviving alone, a waning Pagan mythos, and the confines of modern life. This first theme is one that is seen in horror often. In Nevill's novel, Luke must choose whether to go on his own after his friends become a burden. One man is injured and the other is unhelpful. It is hard to turn the biological will to survive off, but Luke manages to find a compromise. And the beast helps whittle down his friends, as well.
You will also see this Pagan versus Christian religious theme in novels and films frequently too. The Pagan, to this reader, symbolizes a wilder form of humanity where clan structure and warfare were a way of life. The Christian religion is more unifying as it offers hope and unity in humanity in messages like "do unto others as you would have them do to you." In The Ritual, the Pagan is stronger than the Christian religion and this earlier spirituality is seen in certain secondary characters. They worship the god Odin. The creatures who lurk about as half man and half beast are also Pagan in nature.
The final theme is related to the second. The wildness of the Pagan way of life, like celebrating the Winter Solstice in a community, has almost been forgotten in a world that trumps the individual over all else (if you subscribe to it) and urbanization. Luke laments at not having a family like his friends. But Dom, Phil and Hutch are not living the Western Dream of wealth, success and happiness. Instead, they are lonely men, some in the midst of a divorce. They are trapped in their lives and the final few pages emphasize Luke's trapped nature. He is trapped in a life of predictability through work and social demands. Welcome to capitalism! Thus, this reviewer would argue that the ending of the novel is a tragic one as Luke leaves the wildness of the Pagan way of life for a return to the modern Christian world (perhaps post-Christian).
It is necessary to touch on Nevill's themes to hopefully prove what an interesting and provocative novel this is. There is tension; there are surprises and there are some interesting elements of Pagan witchcraft here. This reviewer will admit that he read this novel quite a bit slower than Nevill's previous outing, Apartment 16. There were fewer characters in this third novel than the earlier one and the lack of social interaction between characters seemed to slow down the read here.
There was one other element that took some of the believability away from the novel. Luke is a bruised wreck by the end of this read. This reviewer was wondering how Luke survived a fracture, a swollen eye, broken teeth, a stab wound to the leg, a stab wound to the chest, a second concussion, a bruised forehead and a split lip. Is he superhuman? All of these wounds would signal death or at least a bed ridden status. But, Luke keeps on fighting. And that is what heroes do, right?
Outside of these two minor drawbacks, The Ritual is a fantastic read. There is enough mystery here to keep horror book fans reading. There is a shift in characters in the middle part, which leads to a satisfying conclusion. The themes are plenty; take your pick. The violence is unsettling and this is a novel that will not be soon forgotten. Pick it up for an exciting ride through the haunted forests of a forgotten world.
Overall: 8 out of 10 (good writing, few errors, some unbelievability).
A second review of this novel is available at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review:
The Ritual at Graemes Fantasy Book Review
The author's website is here:
The Ritual at Adam Nevill's Homepage
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