This is a tale of survival, as four old friends reunite for a camping/hiking trip in a deserted part of Sweden. After attempting to take a shortcut through some uncharted forest, the group finds that this most deserted part of the world isn't deserted at all. Something else is in the forest...and it's hungry :D
It's rare for me to find a book that grips almost from the first word, but The Ritual grabbed me immediately and refused to let go. The first part of the book, as the four friends are hunted in the dark by something terrible, is fantastic. If you were a fan of The Blair Witch Project in the slightest, this book will resonate, and provide another damn good reason to stay away from the woods at all costs. Hell, I've got one tree in my garden, and right now I DON'T TRUST IT. Yeah, tree, I'm talking to you. You leafy bastard.
The characters are likeable, and their slow deterioration as they confront something far beyond their understanding is expertly handled. These are old university friends whose lives have moved in different directions over the intervening years, and the strain this puts on their relationships is believable and compelling.
And then there's the forest. Oh lordy. The grim mysteries of the forest are chilling and enthralling. The Ritual didn't produce surprise or fright so much as inspire crawling dread. One scene, in which the four friends wake up to find that *something* has happened to each of them while they slept, is excellent and genuinely unsettling.
Had this book simply stopped at the halfway point, it would be a solid 5 star horror masterpiece for me.
As it is, The Ritual almost seems like two books shoehorned together. The second half is not bad, not by any means, but it introduces a new plot and some new characters which, while fine in itself and well worth reading, suffers by comparison to the sheer sweaty adrenaline rush of the opening chapters.
Hard to go into the plot any further without spoilers, so I'll finish by saying that this was one of the creepiest books I can remember reading in a long time. Take it camping with you, read it in a tent by torchlight, and lose your mind with terror.
Highly recommended. 4/5.