The Ruins is a great horror story. It delivers fast paced action, has interesting characters (more on that later) and it concludes in a perfectly shocking way. As I came to the last couple of pages and finally realized where the story was going I could not believe it. Between wanting to throw the book out the window (as if this could, in any way, change the ending) and simply stare anxiously at the next words, this has kept me on the edge of my seat for days. It’s not a story about characters, or sprinkled with purple prose like Adam Nevill’s House of Small Shadows which is also an excellent read – it’s a straightforward narrative brimming with horrifying events that seem to escalate with every page.
It starts quite innocently – two young American couples, having a great summer adventure together before heading off to university, dreaming of weeks spent lazing around on a beach in Mexico. They become friends with the Greeks, two guys who seem to be looking for a good time, just like their little group. Then they meet Mathias, the quiet German whose brother had left for a mysterious place, leaving behind a note with a hand drawn map. Together they decide to go and find the place, a Mayan archaeological dig at an old mining camp. And so the horror begins.
There are signs, subtle at first, then more obvious, that the place they’re trying to find should, in fact, be well left alone. Their bus driver tries to warn them, the people in a village try to warn them, but due to their inability to communicate clearly why they shouldn’t go there, the travelers choose to ignore them. If you were on your way to a mysterious place on your holiday, would you heed the warnings or keep going, hoping for adventure? That’s an interesting question. I felt that the author used the language barrier conveniently not only in this case but also when it came to the Greeks who didn’t speak any English, yet adding another layer of doubt and discomfort for me as a reader.
The travelers arrive at their destination. They find Mathias’ brother but this is more a case of “be careful what you wish for” rather than occasion for celebration. The tension is palpable, and this adventure pushes their limits, both mental and physical. There’s the heat, thirst, hunger, and the mental distress of facing a situation with little hope of positive outcome. How they react, what they do – and don’t do – life and death decisions that must be made, discoveries they stumble upon as the truth of what that place is starts to sink in, it all adds up, escalating in a finale of horrific proportions. It’s true that the characters act stupidly at times, their flaws obvious in the decisions they make, but I can forgive that – they are after all, young and just looking for a bit of adventure. Who goes on a relaxing three week holiday to the beach thinking they’ll have to go through a terrifying ordeal? Still, this was the main reason why I didn’t give this a 5 star rating.
I kept closing the book and picking it up again and again. As much as I love horror – and telling myself this is just a story – at times I found it difficult to keep reading. There are graphic passages and disturbing scenes so this is definitely not one for the squeamish. But curiosity and an engaging narrative won. I got to the end. It was unexpected. It was perfect. And it was terrible.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in September 2015