[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]
[While this isn’t the worst cover I’ve seen, it looks weirdly cheesy and photoshopped. I’ve seen an alternate cover for it that’s nice and spooky forest aesthetic that looks much better]
“When four old University friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise. With limited experience between them, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, Luke figures things couldn’t possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artifacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. As the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn’t come easy among these ancient trees . . .“
To begin with, I actually saw the movie rendition of this book, before even knowing it was a book. [I try my best to read the book first in most situations, but can’t do it all]. So this review is going to start with my general feeling of the book, and the the latter half is going to be spoiler-y to discuss the difference between movie and book because there’s some drastic differences between the two.
The book itself is very well written. The book is split into two parts, [which are honestly both so long that it could be two books], and the first half of the book is the the four characters traveling through essentially virgin Scandinavian forest, that is remote as possible, and hasn’t really been touched by man since the times of ancient Pagans. Things become dire when two of the men [who are out of shape/inexperienced/didn’t even want to really be there] become badly injured, and the group becomes lost in a forest where no one is really nearby to help. Resources dwindle, and tensions rise between them when they start to realize, they may never make it out.
Things only get worse when they find ancient pagan buildings, artifacts, effigies, and realize they’ve stumbled into areas of ancient sacrifice, as well as the bodies of unknown animals massacred and hung up in trees that no animal would or could do. It’s here that things turn paranormal when they realized they’re being stalked by, and eventually attacked by, something not normally of this earth, and very very old. These parts are written so that it’s very easy to feel for their urgency. If they don’t die from dehydration, starvation, or infection from their injuries, some unknown force is going to get them, and slaughter them. Everything is dread-filled, especially as their anger and desperation with each other rises.
The second part of the book splits off with one of them finding people within the forest, but it’s not a rescue situation whatsoever, and just when you think that things couldn’t be worse, they get worse. All those ‘ancient’ sacrifices and artifacts of ancient pagans, appear to not have been relics of the past. I’ll go more into this part below, because it absolutely changes in mood.
Alright, from this point here, all text in white is going to be spoiler-y, and go back and forth between book and movie comparisons. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
One thing that I wanted to point out in the first half of the book [that I liked a lot] that is pretty different than in the movie, is the group the story follows, and why they decided to go out in the middle of fucking nowhere. In the book, they’re old college pals that previously only met up once a year for a drink with each other, and decided to change it up after a few of them are tired of their lives and want to try and rekindle their friendships with each other since their ‘new’ lives haven’t been going so well. They decide that they want to go on a vacation together as old pals. But one of them doesn’t make much money, so they decided to do something cheap with each other, like hiking through the forest. And for some reason, a nearly unexplored, remote forest.
In the movie, there’s actually another friend that was previously apart of the group, but had been murdered some time before in a robbery gone bad. He was killed in front of/near the rest of the group, and there’s a lot of guilt with one friend specifically because he felt he could have saved his friend, but was too scared to. The whole reason of the vacation in this case, was in memory of their friend that was murdered, and to try and remove the strain that had wedged in their friendship with their friend’s death – and it was something that they had wanted to to together at some point anyway.
I feel like this gives a lot more reason to make busy working people take time out and go do something dangerous. Specifically, the two friends who are very overweight, out of shape, and have no experience in this sort of thing. Most people I know, even with being happy and fit in their lives, usually wouldn’t want to spend a vacation hiking through a dangerous, unmapped forest out in the cold and rain. But when it comes to doing something in memory of a loved one that has been lost, that usually makes people do what they usually wouldn’t.
This also trickles into another aspect of the story, which is that when they start finding spooky pagan stuff, it starts messing with their minds, especially if effigies of mysterious gods/creatures are nearby. It [which I’ll refer to as an ‘Entity’ to try and spoil as little as possible about it since it’s the coolest part of either story] literally taunts and purposely tortures them to whittle down their sanity and break their spirit so that they can be hunted more easily. In the book, it doesn’t go much into each person’s guilt except for the main character, other than referencing that two of them are in strained marriages or unhappy with their lives which they’re haunted by. In the main character’s case, he’s somehow upset that he doesn’t have lives like the others, but at the same time he doesn’t want lives like theirs. It’s really conflicting that he’s actually really upset about the whole thing and goes back and forth a lot. But in the movie, it really emphasizes how guilt-ridden they all are about their friend’s death, and how the loss of him has haunted them all in ways they haven’t realized even to themselves, or repressed it. it makes them all terribly vulnerable, and so the ancient ‘evil’ that is stalking them takes advantage of this fully. The way the movie also expresses this with their random visions/hallucinations/thoughts is really cool and well done.
Then comes the latter half of the story. Here we go.
In the movie, the people found in the woods, are a sort of ‘cult’ or spooky pagan group that actively still worship the unknown Entity in the forest as a god. [And it’s actually left open that it actually may be a god] Except for, only some of them are actually doing this willingly – many of them in this ancient village are unwilling participants. The ‘natives’ are people who have been doomed to the fate of worshiping and appeasing the Entity for essentially forever. It makes them immortal as the creature is, but the cost is dire. Other people within the group are random lost people who are lone survivors of the Entity and its forest that are ‘rescued’ and then doomed to join the ‘cult’ forever. If you don’t appease the Entity [hint: sacrificing people/self-mutilation, general terrible amounts of pain, etc] – it may cause the rage of the Entity to slaughter of all of these people, and this thing loves to torture it’s victims before the even worse death [and is hinted at that you’ll be cursed after death as well]. Most people don’t want to be there, doing this forever until the end of time, but it’s better than what happens if they don’t. Everyone else is also sort of scared into submission by the leaders that they could be next to be offered if they don’t join in. I actually found this dynamic of the ‘cult’ pretty interesting.
In the book… it’s a black metal music band.
[I wish I was kidding, but I’m not]
Come to find out, there is a small grouping of people that live out in the deepest parts of the forest, specifically one elder woman who seems to have some sort of connection to the entity. However, with her is a group of black-metal loving teenagers, who are on the run from authorities for murder/rape/etc [I want to specify here, they are the kind of black metal people that are the ‘church burning/racist/xenophobic/homophobic/randomly go murder specific people in the sake of metal’ kind of black metal fanatics/musicians] for the sake of ‘true black metal.’ They have specifically gone into this forest because somehow it’s known in these parts that the Nordic Gods still exist, and so they want to use their music [their band is called ‘Blood Frenzy’ by the way] to summon a god, and use it to continue their cause of killing people not acceptable to their ‘true black metal’ lifestyle and use it [human sacrifice] as a means to try and summon the God for pictures and possibly a music video, and to try and take over Europe that way.
Literally, when one of the group members wakes up and think he’s been rescued, he’s greeted by the elder woman… and a teenager in corpse paint wearing a Gorgoroth shirt. Sigh. [Now granted, I’d love to see a movie of the premise of ‘metal band goes out into deep unexplored ancient woods to use their music to summon an ancient pagan god’ – so long as it wasn’t the terrible metal fanatics – but this just… was so obtuse to the rest of the story.]
There is a bit of a twist there [which I was hoping for so it didn’t end up being just a dumb af ending] – with the black metal band, where it shows that [thankfully] they have nothing to do with the Entity or any real interactions with it and more with the followers. But even though the author tries to write it so seriously as if it’s an actual threat, but it’s just so asinine and silly that I almost marked this a DNF until giving it the chance that maybe there was a twist. Even as someone who is also a metalhead, I just couldn’t believe that was in the book.
Those are pretty much them major differences. I’d say there is a pretty decent difference between the book and movie with the Entity as well [and the effigies made for it] and what the Entity actually also can control. The physical difference between is pretty understandable however, because trying to describe the movie’s portrayal in words would be very difficult. [AKA – the movie’s rendition is badass – if you’re into creature design at all, it’s almost worth it just for that] As well as that the book spends a lot more time with the group finding some pretty cool ancient pagan stuff in which one of the characters is pretty knowledgable about. I looked up some of the references made in the book as well, and most of it was historically accurate.
Alright, spoilers over.
I would also raise a point with the writing in the book however, is that the author seems to not be a big fan of women, at least in this story. The wives of the married men of the traveling group are all made out to be awful, and the downfall of the men, and that none of their issues are at all their own faults. One of the wives is blamed because she suffers with mental illness that requires heavy medication, despite her trying to get better. Another is described in detail about how ugly she looked/sounded during sex. They’re all essentially described as life-draining harpies, without directly calling them harpies. The aloof character of the group is a womanizer, and mentally thinks about all the women he’s fucked and tossed just because he could, and how one of the reasons he doesn’t want to get married, is because he thinks all women are nags or breeders.
There’s also the elder woman later on in the story that despite is described how matriarchal she is, and takes care of one of the characters, is just awful in her descriptions and suspicions of her. Then there’s the single female member of Blood Frenzy. First, she’s also a teenager. It is mentioned more than once, that she’s under age, just a child. The author cannot shut up about describing how fat she is, and how small her feet are. The feet thing almost gets to the point of fetish-y. The fat thing can be mentioned once or twice, and the point comes across, but he goes into so much emphasis about how her being fat is grotesque that it made me wonder if the author was fatphobic in some way. Also at one point [the character is naked] the main character goes into detail about her pierced labia and uses ‘cunt’ to refer to her genitalia as well as going into detail about her genitalia’s scent. In detail. Again, she’s a minor, and it’s all just so angry. I understand that at least with the band member, she’s a terrible person who has hurt the protagonist multiple times, but it seems like there’s a lot of hate behind the writing.
As a whole, I really loved the first half/first part of the book, when it was centered in on being lost in the forest and the ever-looming Entity. The second half, however, just completely dropped me. I went out of my way to force myself to finish through to the end, so this was tough thinking about a rating. I’m just going to do a solid down the middle. I definitely liked the movie way more, which is kind of a rarity in comparison of books vs movies.
I give The Ritual 3/5 Bone Effigies
“It was a mixture of a bovine cough and a jackal’s bark, but one so deep and powerful it suggested a chest more expansive and a mouth wider than either of those comparisons. Bestial. Ferocious. To be avoided.”
“From the very core of each of them, their ancestors seemed to cry out in inarticulate voices. Right then, they screamed in alarm from times before symbols and language that could depict such things that hunted and meant murder. It was believed that they were returned, in this cold and in this dark, to a place and into the presence of something from Earth’s dawn. Or another, even older place. It dominated this land.”