by Adam Neville
Published by Pan Books, 2011
Adam Nevill’s previous two books Banquet For The Damned and Apartment 16 have been excellent ghost stories, mixing the best traditional elements with modern settings to revamp the genre for the modern age. Now, with The Ritual, he takes us deep into nature and pagan rituals in a Scandinavian forest with another powerful supernatural tale.
We follow the misadventures of former university colleagues, Luke, Phil, Dom and Hutch as they make the biggest mistake of their lives. What is planned as a reunion trip to a “completely untampered with virgin forest”, soon turns into chaos as a short cut takes them into an increasingly dangerous part of the woods. The group find evidence of strange rituals and pagan practices, but are completely lost and it’s not long before they realise there are even greater threats in this wild forest.
This is a book of two halves, the first very much connected with the unseen threat of the supernatural and it’s strong connections to the nature of the landscape. In the second half, the threat becomes visible bringing a different pace and very different feel to the story. At the heart of the book are the main characters who have drifted apart following university, the different cultures and lifestyles they have adopted are contentious issues within the group. Couple this with the supernatural threat and we watch as a group of ‘normal’ individuals are driven to the brink of madness and beyond.
Nevill evokes the atmosphere of the ancient forest wilderness brilliantly and the gradual revelation of the threat is nicely handled as the reader only knows as much as the main characters. The forest is adorned with pagan symbols and signs, “dark and sunken” buildings and increasing doom as the men find themselves unable to escape. Owing much to Blackwood’s The Wendigo and The Willows but with modern nods to the likes of the Blair Witch Project this was the more succesfull half of the book for me.
The second section is much more about revelation on a rather limited stage as opposed to the vast wilderness of the first section. Here the story moves in a much more direct fashion introducing several new themes while expanding on the previous pagan threat. It’s well written but for me lacks the atmosphere of the first section, it’s much more modern in tone. It also feels slightly drawn out after the tight pacing of the first half.
It might not have been the intention to create a novel with such distinctive atmosphere in it’s two parts, indeed it almost feels as if the two parts could have been written at different times, but overall this does not detract from what is an excellent horror novel. Once again, Adam Nevill has reached into the past for inspiration but has successfully created a thoroughly modern supernatural horror story. He respects the traditions of the genre without being constrained by them. His best book so far it combines the atmospheric qualities of Banquet For The Damned with the character driven drama of Apartment 16 to create a thoroughly enjoyable and delightfully creepy horror story.
Rating 4.5 out of 5