First published back in October of 2011, ‘The Ritual’ formed British author Adam Nevill’s third published novel.

DLS Synopsis:
It had been a long time since Hutch, Phil, Dom and Luke had gotten together.  Some fifteen years ago, whilst they studied at university, the four of them had been good friends.  Since then they’d gone their separate ways.  They’d each moved into their chosen career paths.  Dom and Luke had settled down and gotten married.  All of them had taken on the responsibility of an adult life except for Luke who was still single and without a proper career, any real responsibility, or direction.

Hoping to rekindle their past friendship, the four of them had organised a three day long hike within the Norrbotten county of Sweden.  However, when Dom and Phil begin to struggle with the hike because of their lack of preparation, tensions amongst them begin to rise.  And after a while, Luke realises that he no longer has anything in common with his friends anymore, and the terrible weather just antagonises the situation.

Hutch, who had been leading their small expedition, makes the decision to abandon the Sörstubba trail that they had been following, in favour of a shortcut through a thick forest that intersects the two trails.  However, it’s not long before the four inexperienced hikers become lost within the disorientating and increasingly difficult confines of the forest.

Not wanting to double back, they push on through the thickening forest, until the skyline above is completely blotted out by the mass of overhanging foliage.  It’s only now that they realise the dilemma that they’ve put themselves within.  Lost, hungry, and with very limited supplies, the situation is no longer a matter of salvaging a reunion holiday, but one of survival.

And then they find the animal corpse handing from one of the trees.  A butchered carcass that had previously been some large beast or other, but was now worryingly indistinguishable.  A bloodied and savaged animal cadaver that had somehow been hung up on the overhanging branches.  They have little choice but to push on, with the savagely mutilated remains just fuelling their desperation to get out of the forest.

But as night falls and their struggle through the undergrowth becomes close to impossible, they stumble across a house at the rear of ad deeply overgrown paddock.  Hidden within the thick isolation of the dense forest, the ancient shack offers the four lost hikers some cover from the constant rain.  Somewhere to settle down for the night.  Somewhere to rest up before they can continue on with their struggle through the forest.

But inside the long-abandoned shack they find signs of something dark and twisted.  They find a vast collection of animal skulls and crucifixes hung across every square inch of its internal walls.  And upstairs, in the clinging darkness of the attic, a motionless beast awaits them in the gloom, symbolising the madness that must have invaded the minds of those that had once lived there.

There is something very wrong with the forest.  They are beginning to accept that they are somewhere where no one has been for a very long time.  But there is something still here there.  Something that remains in the thick impenetrable undergrowth of the forest.  A horror that remains in this isolated and long-forgotten corner of the world.  Something that bridges the gap with a time from long ago.  Something that is now hunting them down…

DLS Review:
Prepare to submerge your nervous system in ice and get yourself scared to holy hell and back.  Indeed, for the first half of the book, Nevill offers up an escalating horror that plays with the reader’s inherent fears of being lost within one bastard of a hostile and creepy environment.  Throw in some truly awe-inspiring descriptive skills, Nevill’s ability to paint a vivid picture of horror without overly describing the situation, and an all-round knack at portraying the worst horrors imaginable within a nightmare-inducing darkened environment, and you’ve got yourself one beast of a terrifying ride.

We’re talking ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999) meets ‘The Descent’ (2005) meets ‘The Village’ (2004) – all with a dark, damp, twisted undercurrent that chills your blood throughout.  It’s claustrophobic and oppressive.  It seems never-ending in its assault on your senses.  Within this first half of the book, the chill-factor alone is enough to put even the most hardened horror reader into a cold midnight sweat.

And then, at the point at which this mounting horror has escalated to where it seems about to implode, Nevill completely derails the story, taking it off the course it was following and into some jaw-droppingly different territory.  In fact, this second half of the novel feels as if it’s (almost) been written by someone else.  The guttural tension, the nerve-stretching suspense, the blood-chilling coldness, the atmosphere, the whole nail-biting horror of the first half is gone.  Instead what we have is a strange mash-up between a horror novel and a Norwegian Black Metal homage, akin to Marta Skaði’s ‘Baphomet’s Agony’ (2012) with a kidnapped-victim torture-porn type of vibe going one.

Indeed, even before the sudden derailing of the novel into ‘Lords Of Chaos’ (1998) territory, Nevill had already hinted towards such roots in metal, through the titling of the novel’s two parts – ‘Beneath The Remains’ (Sepultura) and ‘South Of Heaven’ (Slayer).  And to be honest these little ‘in references’ do absolutely no harm to the novel, and if anything, will simply bring out a nod of appreciation from any fellow metallers who happen upon the book.

As you’d expect, when the second half of the novel rears its head, these references to black metal bands start to come in thick and fast.  Furthermore, outside of the black metal name dropping, Nevill bundles in some honest-to-god Norse mythology and Varg Vikernes swaying’s towards the old Norse god Odin.  It’s all in there.  And Nevill doesn’t miss a beat with it all.

However, when put side-by-side with the first half of the novel, this all becomes horrendously out of sync.  After a while, you can see where Nevil was planning to go with the story, but the overall delivery, especially with the hideous clash between the sensory onslaught of the first half and then the stuttering mishmash of the second half, inevitably makes for a tale that just doesn’t fit together well.  In fact, the unbearable juxtaposition created with the two halves simply drowns out any impact that the latter section could otherwise have held.

It’s a shame, as the first half of the book, lost in the claustrophobic depths of the Scandinavian forest, is so utterly compelling that the novel could have been one of the most terrifying reads out there.  That’s not to say that the latter ‘Black Metal worshiping’ section of the novel is all bad.  It’s entertaining in a kind of torture-porn ‘Hotel’ (2005)-esque manner.  And the Black Metal name dropping does have its own smirk-inducing charm.

But at the end of the day, you can’t get away from the fact that the novel offered up so very much, and by page 240 Nevill had delivered the goods in absolute abundance, only to throw it all away with such an unbelievable and ill-fitting change in direction.

The novel runs for a total of 418 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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