Review: “The Ritual” By Adam Nevill (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel “The Ritual”.

This was a novel that I spotted when looking for second-hand books and, since I’d heard that there had been a film adaptation of it (which I’ve only seen the trailer for) and because the title sounded hilariously melodramatic, I decided to get a copy.

So, let’s take a look at “The Ritual”. Needless to say, this review will contain some MAJOR SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Ritual” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing four hikers discovering a grisly animal carcass dangling from a tree in the middle of a forest, before flashing back to several hours earlier.

Luke, Hutch, Phil and Dom were flatmates at university. About fifteen years later, they decide to have a reunion and go on a hiking holiday in Sweden. Of course, tramping through rain-soaked fields and sleeping in tents isn’t the relaxing break that they had somehow expected it to be. And, with tempers fraying and Dom’s knee acting up, Hutch decides to call the holiday to an early end.

So, after checking the map, he proposes taking a shortcut to the next town through a wild patch of unmanaged forest. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is one of the most compelling, creepy and atmospheric horror novels that I’ve read recently. Imagine a mixture of horror stories by Dennis Wheatley, Shaun Hutson and H.P.Lovecraft and this might give you the vaguest hint of what to expect. It is also one of the very few genuinely scary monster novels I’ve ever read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it contains a gloriously unsettling mixture of suspenseful horror, location-based horror, atmospheric horror, occult horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, camping-based horror, paranormal horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, character-based horror, gory horror, sadistic horror, cosmic horror and survival horror (yes, survival horror, in a novel).

Seriously, whilst this novel might not outright shock or terrify you that often, you’ll probably be in a constant state of nervous unease throughout most of the story.

The novel also manages to make the monster genre scary too. In part, this is because it uses the Hollywood trick of not directly showing the monster that much. But, it is also because of the fact that the novel has such a realistic tone and atmosphere that, for large parts of the story, you aren’t really quite sure whether the monster actually exists or not. The novel also makes sure that the monster isn’t the only source of danger and fear that the main characters encounter. Seriously, it’s a scary monster novel πŸ™‚

Plus, if you believe that tent-based camping is only appropriate for music festivals, then this novel will be a chilling source of realistic horror too. Seriously, the novel’s depiction of the squalor, bleakness and general misery of camping in something other than a caravan is terrifyingly accurate. Likewise, the novel’s woods are a really claustrophobic, creepy and menacingly atmospheric location too.

However, if you’re a fan of heavy metal music, some of the later parts of the novel might either be scarier than you expect and/or might make you roll your eyes. The second half of the novel focuses on something similar to the violence and political extremism that the metal scene in Scandinavia was infamous for during the 1990s, with the novel’s human villains being members of an extreme metal band called Blood Frenzy who wouldn’t exactly be out of place in that context.

Given that this is the scariest and most disturbing part of the metal genre’s history, I can understand why it would inspire part of a horror novel – although it is kind of annoying that the novel doesn’t really contain a more nuanced, modern and/or realistic portrayal of the genre and it’s fans, given how infrequently heavy metal turns up in fiction these days.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. This is a novel about alienation, loneliness, time, ageing and death. It’s a mid-life crisis story about how friends drift apart and how there is no right way to grow older. Yet, surprisingly, the story doesn’t drift into nihilism. It is a story about how life is valuable and meaningful, even if it is often harsh and apparently meaningless. This theme is handled well and it really helps to add a lot of extra depth and emotional impact to the story.

In terms of the characters, this novel is brilliant. Not only is the realistically complex, and often antagonistic, friendship between the four hikers a major source of drama, but all of them get more than enough characterisation to make you care about them. Likewise, the main characters also suffer from realistic problems (eg: Luke has depression/anger issues, two of the characters are going through divorces etc..), which add tension and character-based drama to the story too.

Plus, even though the novel’s metal band are caricatures, they still become suitably chilling villains as the story progresses. Likewise, the monster is left mysterious enough to remain frightening, but shown enough to be dramatic πŸ™‚

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant πŸ™‚ Whether it is how the novel’s third-person narration sometimes contrasts elaborate formal descriptions of the forest and more informal “matter of fact” descriptions of the characters trying to survive in it, or the disorientating nightmare sequence that somehow uses first, second and third-person perspective within the space of a couple of pages, this novel is really well-written πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 418 pages in length, the novel can feel a little long at times. Seriously, the first half of this book would almost work as a gloriously efficienct short novel πŸ™‚ Likewise, although this novel is a moderately-paced horror story, the consistent use of suspense gives the story more of a thriller-like quality that keeps it compelling. Seriously, I was absolutely riveted during some parts of this story πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a really brilliant horror novel πŸ™‚ Yes it could have been a bit shorter and, if you’re a metalhead, some parts of it will make you roll your eyes. But, this aside, it is a wonderfully atmospheric, well-written, constantly chilling and utterly gripping horror novel πŸ™‚ Seriously, if you want to see a scary example of the monster genre, then read this book!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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Review: “Rienzi (Release 6)” [WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”]

Well, since I’m still reading the next horror novel that I plan to review (“The Ritual” by Adam Nevill), I thought that I’d take a quick look at a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD today. After all, it’s been almost a month since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive a few times, I found myself looking at a WAD from 2011 called “Rienzi (Release 6)“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, although it will probably work with GZDoom etc.. too. However, according to the readme file, it may not run with vanilla “Doom II”/”Final Doom” or the Chocolate Doom source port. Likewise, be sure to enable jumping in whichever source port you use.

So, let’s take a look at “Rienzi (Release 6)”:

“Rienzi (Release 6)” is a short to medium length single-level WAD that also contains a couple of new textures/animations too.

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it has a really good difficulty curve and weapon progression. In the early parts of the level, you’ll be fighting zombies and imps with the pistol before gradually encountering better weapons and more powerful monsters.

If, like me, you’re slightly out of practice with “Doom II” then this level is a good way to reintroduce yourself to it. It’s challenging enough to be fun, but forgiving enough not to be frustrating. In other words, it’s a mildly-moderately challenging level.

So, yes, if you’re out of practice with “Doom II”, then this is a rather fun level πŸ™‚

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. The level contains a really good mixture of gloomy claustrophobic areas and large bright arena-like areas, which help to keep things interesting. Plus, although the early parts of the level seem to be fairly linear, the level quickly turns into the kind of proper non-linear level you’d expect from a real FPS game like “Doom II”.

One strange thing about this level is the keys. Although there are three skull keys hidden throughout the level, the door that they open doesn’t seem to be clearly marked. Still, they encourage the player to search the level thoroughly – which is important because, in the classic fashion, progression at one point depends on finding an unobtrusive passage. Likewise, if you want the plasma rifle, then prepare to look for secret areas.

Yes, this gun is actually a secret item in the level.

In terms of the textures and visual design, this level is really good πŸ™‚ The new textures consist of some animated flames and a suitably fiery teleportation animation when the Cyberdemon appears:

Yes, THIS is “Doom II” πŸ™‚

For the most part, the level uses the standard textures – but thanks to some wonderful lighting and a cool-looking tower in the later part of the level, everything looks really cool πŸ™‚

There is some really awesome lighting here πŸ™‚

Seriously, this looks wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a well-designed level that will provide half an hour or so of fun πŸ™‚ There’s a good difficulty curve, some cool-looking areas and a decent amount of variety too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Mall” By S. L. Grey (Novel)

Well, for the next book in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel from 2011 called “The Mall” by S.L. Grey. I first found this novel shortly after I’d finished reading Sarah Lotz’s excellent “Day Four” a few weeks earlier and decided to search online for other novels by the author.

And, given my fascination with abandoned shopping centres, this novel (co-written by Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) intrigued me enough to order a second-hand copy of it.

So, let’s take a look at “The Mall”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Corvus (UK) paperback edition of “The Mall” that I read.

The novel begins in Johannesburg. A down-and-out British woman with a coke habit called Rhoda is searching the halls of a large shopping centre for the child that she was supposed to be babysitting for her cousin.

Although the centre’s security guards aren’t exactly helpful, Rhoda eventually gets them to talk to a bookshop assistant called Daniel who she thinks might have seen the lost child. However, the incompetent guards mess this up and give Daniel the wrong description.

With suspicion falling on Rhoda, she flees the guards and lies in wait in a nearby car park for Daniel to emerge from the centre at night. When he does, she threatens him and eventually, at knifepoint, forces him to return to the centre to help her look for the child.

But, soon after they break into the closed shopping centre, they find that they cannot leave. Not only do parts of the centre look slightly different, but they both start receiving creepy text messages from someone who wants to play a game with them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it the first half of it is one of closest things that I’ve ever seen to a “Silent Hill” novel πŸ™‚ Yes, the story goes in a slightly different direction later in the book, but the first half or so of the book is like an awesome mixture of the shopping centre level from “Silent Hill 3” and the “Saw” movies πŸ™‚

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they are a brilliant mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, surreal/paranormal horror, atmospheric horror, creepy locations, dystopian horror, realistic horror, unreliable reality horror, gross out horror and character-based horror.

As I hinted earlier, the novel’s horror elements are at their very best during the first half of the novel – where the characters find themselves trapped in the run-down parts of a deserted shopping centre. Everything from the creepy mannequins, to the “nightmare world” atmosphere to the menacing text messages reminded me a lot of both “Silent Hill” and the “Saw” movies πŸ™‚ Seriously, it’s really cool to see this type of horror in a novel πŸ™‚

The second half of the novel focuses a lot more on surreal satire, dystopian horror, bleak horror and more realistic drama. Although the story does something really clever with it’s twisted nightmare-world (which I won’t spoil) during the late parts of the novel, the second half of the novel is a bit more understated and less visceral than the earlier parts of the novel. These parts of the story are more creepy, bleak and/or disturbing than outright scary, if this makes sense.

I should probably also talk about the novel’s satirical elements too, since this novel is a satire of consumerism. About halfway through the story, the characters find themselves in an uncanny alternate version of the mall, where all of the shop signs are different (eg: parodies of shop names), the adverts are grotesque, everyone speaks a slightly weird version of English and the mall’s inhabitants are sharply divided between homeless people, inhuman robot-like employees and grotesque ultra-rich “shoppers”.

This segment of the novel reads a lot like an updated version of the dystopian fiction of the 1950s-80s and it is surprisingly compelling, not to mention both hilarious and disturbing at the same time too. And, although I’d have liked to have seen slightly more “Silent Hill”-style horror in this part of the story, it’s refreshing to see a modern version of this type of old-school dystopian fiction πŸ™‚

This novel is also more of a thriller than I’d expected too πŸ™‚ Thanks to the way that it is written and the clever use of mystery and suspense, this novel is a surprisingly gripping and fast-paced one. Although, like with the horror elements, this is at it’s best in the first half of the novel, the second half is still very compelling too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. Not only do both Dan and Rhoda get a lot of characterisation and character development – which turns them from unsympathetic characters into very sympathetic ones – but the weird love-hate relationship between them is also a really compelling part of the story too. In addition to this, the novel is also populated by an unnervingly odd cast of background characters who really help to add a bit of extra unease to the story too πŸ™‚

In terms of the writing, it is better than I’d initially thought. In short, even though this novel uses both present-tense narration and the dreaded multiple-first person narrators, it actually works surprisingly well. Each chapter clearly signposts who is narrating and, once you get used to the slightly weird present-tense narration, it really helps to add some extra intensity to the story.

The writing style in this story is more on the informal and gritty side of things and, although this means that it takes the story a while to really build up some atmosphere, it keeps things moving at a fast pace and really fits in with the general style and tone of the story too πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 312 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long and, although the first half is more fast-paced than the second half, both halves of the novel are really compelling πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a really innovative, creepy and compelling horror novel πŸ™‚ If you’re a fan of the classic “Silent Hill” games and/or old-school dystopian fiction, then you’ll really love it πŸ™‚ Yes, the narration is a bit weird and the first half is slightly better than the second half, but it is still one hell of a novel πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Dead Of Night” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, although I had slightly mixed feelings about Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero“, I took a look online after I’d finished reading it and I happened to notice that he’d written other zombie novels too.

So, since a second-hand copy of Maberry’s 2011 novel “Dead Of Night” was going cheap, I thought that it might be worth taking a look at.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. In fact, the blurb on the back of the book also contains a major backstory SPOILER too.

This is the 2011 St.Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Dead Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the rural American town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania with a mortician called Hartnup dying from a zombie-related injury. A body has risen from the slab and bitten him, and now he is also turning into a zombie too….

Some time later, a tough-as-nails police officer called Desdemona Fox gets a call from her partner JT telling her that there has been a call from the local new age funeral home. When they get there, they are greeted by a grisly scene of death and destruction. Of course, it isn’t long before one of the bodies turns out to be not quite as dead as Desdemona had thought…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant zombie novel πŸ™‚ Not only is this novel a fairly intense horror story, but it’s also very gripping and it has a lot of personality (which Maberry’s “Patient Zero” lacked slightly). Whilst some parts of this novel are fairly clichΓ©d, this is a gloriously compelling late-night grindhouse B-movie of a novel πŸ™‚

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t outright scary, it’s suspenseful, intense, disturbing, bleak/depressing and shocking at times.

In addition to lots of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk elements (including the classic technique of introducing… short-lived… background characters), the novel also includes many wonderfully creepy/disturbing moments of psychological horror, character-based horror, bleak horror, governmental horror, societal horror, claustrophobic horror, moral horror, death horror, body horror and cruel horror.

The novel’s stand-out moments of horror include things like chapters focusing on how one of the zombies sees the world, a chilling monologue delivered by a serial killer, some creepy descriptions of the US foster care system, scenes where characters recognise people who have been zombified etc.. Seriously, this is more than just a zombie novel. It’s a horror novel too.

The zombie elements of the story are kind of interesting. Whilst there’s a fairly inventive reason behind the zombie apocalypse (which the novel’s blurb spoils!), this novel is clearly aimed at people who are new to the zombie genre. For starters, it’s set in a fictional world where the only zombie movies any of the characters have heard of are old films from the 1930s-50s.

As such, fans of the zombie genre might find a few scenes to be somewhat patronising – such as how it takes the main characters a surprisingly long time to finally come to the obvious realisation that they have to aim for the head when fighting zombies.

Even so, all of this stuff lends the novel a slightly “traditional” kind of atmosphere and, given the novel’s dedication to George A. Romero, this seems to have been a deliberate creative decision. After all, when “Night Of The Living Dead” was first released, the zombie genre was still a fairly new thing and this modern novel tries to recapture this moment in the genre’s history.

This novel is also something of a suspenseful thriller novel too, and in a lot of ways, it’s almost a little bit like an American version of Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚ In addition to the claustrophobic small town setting, the main characters are also constantly in danger from multiple sources (eg: zombies, a hurricane, the government etc..) throughout the story. Plus, the novel also makes subtle use of other thriller novel techniques – such as shorter chapters, multiple plot threads, mini-cliffhangers etc… too.

In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although most of the characters initially appear to be cheesy, two-dimensional stock characters (eg: the tough-as-nails heroine, the by-the-book cop, the intrepid reporter, the mad scientist, the evil serial killer etc…), they quickly gain a lot of extra detail and psychological depth as the story progresses. Seriously, this is the kind of novel that will even make you care about what happens to one of the zombies.

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant πŸ™‚ Unlike the generic thriller novel narration in Maberry’s “Patient Zero”, this novel actually has personality and a distinctive narrative voice πŸ™‚

The third-person narration in this novel is often a wonderfully playful mixture of formal, atmospheric descriptions and the kind of irreverent, informal narration that feels like the text equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie πŸ™‚ Seriously, the writing has a level of personality which I haven’t really seen since I read Jack O’Connell’s “Box Nine“, Jodi Taylor’s “A Trail Through Time” or Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 357 pages in length, it never quite feels bloated. Likewise, this story remains fairly gripping throughout – with the story constantly moving forward at a reasonable pace – which is slow enough to be suspenseful, but fast enough to make you want to read more. Plus, the pacing is slightly closer to that of a horror novel than an action-thriller novel too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is a really great zombie novel. Yes, it’s a little bit cheesy or clichΓ©d at times, but this is a gripping, well-written zombie novel that is also a good horror story too. It’s a late-night grindhouse movie of a novel, it’s a modern splatterpunk novel, it’s a perfect introduction for people who are new to the zombie genre, it’s a suspenseful thriller and it has personality.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Burn The Night” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Ever since I accidentally rediscovered a horror novel that I’d bought on a whim about a decade ago and then forgotten about, I’ve been fascinated by Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” series. But, alas, all good things must come to an end. So, after reading the first five novels in the series (you can find my reviews of them here, here, here, here and here), I finally started reading the final novel – “Burn The Night”.

As you may have guessed, you should read the other five novels before reading this one. Not only will you be a bit puzzled about what is going on if you haven’t read the previous five novels, but you’ll also miss out on a lot of the significance and drama of various parts of this story. So, read the other “Dark Days” books before reading this one!

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Burn The Night”. This review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Harper Voyager (US) paperback edition of “Burn The Night” that I read.

“Burn The Night” is, as you may have guessed, the conclusion to the story that has been building over the past few novels. With Aurora free to build an army, Cynnia’s only chance of saving the world is to gain as many allies as possible. As such, she has sent her sister Nyx out in order to find Rowe and any other allies…

Meanwhile, in Savannah, Mira has her own problems. Not only does she still have to deal with Nick, but Jabari is also out for her blood too and the fanatics of the Daylight Coalition are also growing bolder and more aggressive…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is much better than the first. As regular readers might have guessed from yesterday’s article, my first impressions of this novel weren’t that great. Not only was I annoyed about the narration (more on that later), but I also worried that this novel contained too much fantasy and not enough horror! Yet, as the story progressed, I found myself utterly gripped. As the story progressed, it felt much more like a worthy part of this amazing series. Although this novel takes a while to get going, it is well worth sticking around!

I should start by talking about the novel’s fantasy elements. If you remember, I thought that the fifth novel was a bit like “Game Of Thrones”. Well, this novel is a lot more like “Game Of Thrones” and this is both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, it’s a gloriously epic drama about two opposing armies and, despite the relative lack of horror elements, this novel is still as merciless and bloody as you would expect. On the downside, this is more of a “traditional” fantasy novel than the other novels in the series (and, tellingly, it is also a little bit longer too – at 418 pages). Whilst the slight genre change isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s a bit of a jarring change considering how the series has told more of a gothic horror/thriller story (with fantasy elements) most of the time.

But, once you get over this genre change, then the story remains as gripping as the first and fifth novels were. This is helped by the fact that the series’ action thriller elements are used to full effect here. Whilst you shouldn’t expect a dramatic fight on literally every page, there are enough fast-paced action scenes to keep the story gripping and to carry you through the slightly weaker first half of the novel to the much better second half. Likewise, as the novel progresses, the story’s “Game Of Thrones”-style politics gets more complex and interesting as the alliance takes shape.

It is also worth mentioning the narration in this novel too. Unlike the previous five novels, this one uses *ugh* rotating first-person narration (Why?!?!?!) – with some segments being narrated by Mira and some segments narrated by Nyx.

Thankfully, these narrator changes don’t happen too often and we’re given enough time (usually 3-4 chapters or more) to get used to each narrator between changes. Even so, some clear way of signposting the changes in narrator would have been useful. Although you can usually work out who the narrator is by looking at what other characters are mentioned, it is a little bit confusing to start another chapter and then only realise that the narrator has changed after a paragraph or so. Yes, this is much more of an issue in the earlier parts of the novel than the later parts, but it was a little annoying.

I really have mixed feelings about Nyx’s segments of the novel too. On the one hand, they help to add extra depth to several characters in addition to emphasising one of the main themes of the series. Like Mira, Danaus and Rowe – Nyx is something of an misfit. She’s basically the naturi version of Mira (even down to her complex romance with Rowe, which mirrors Mira and Danaus’ relationship) and this really helps to emphasise the uplifting theme of misfits being awesome πŸ™‚ Plus, of course, these chapters also help to make the naturi seem more complex and sympathetic, which fits into the novel’s message of solidarity amongst those disliked by the mainstream.

On the other hand, the novel wouldn’t have lost a huge amount if Nyx’s adventures had been kept “off screen” and relayed through dialogue instead. Not only would the story be a lot more focused (both narratively and tonally) with just Mira narrating, but it would also be a little bit shorter. Don’t get me wrong, more “Dark Days” is never a bad thing – but I found that the increased length of the story meant that it sometimes diverged from the brilliantly sharp and streamlined storytelling of some of the previous novels – like “Nightwalker” and “Wait For Dusk”.

As for how this novel concludes the series, it does this really well. Without spoiling too much, the ending to this novel is a satisfying reward for reading six novels πŸ™‚ Yes, the ending does leave a few things tantalisingly mysterious but there are so many spectacular and powerfully emotional moments that really provide a beautifully satisfying ending to an absolutely wonderful journey. Seriously, I’ll really miss spending time with Mira and Danaus.

All in all, whilst “Burn The Night” isn’t a perfect novel, it is a very good ending to an amazing series πŸ™‚ Yes, you’ll have to grapple with multiple first-person narrators and a shift away from the horror genre and towards the fantasy genre. But, if you can deal with this, then the novel gets significantly better as it progresses. As I said, it’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series – even if, on it’s own merits, “Burn The Night” is only an ok to good novel. Still, I’ll really miss this series 😦 It has been one of the coolest, most atmospheric and generally awesome series of books that I’ve ever read.

If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, the first half or so of it would maybe just about get a three, but the second half would get four and a half.