The Ritual by Adam Nevill, Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

The Ritual is a fantastic journey into the realm of folk horror, a literary exploration into the sort of narrative that evokes themes familiar to fans of movies like The Wicker Man or Midsommar. As four friends hike into the autumn wilderness of Sweden, they discover that not all shortcuts are meant to be taken, that there are secrets and horrors in hidden places, and they find tensions that refuse to remain beneath the surface as stress and fear take a heavy toll on the men.
The gloomy, sinister forest is brought to stark, claustrophobia-inducing life as Adam Nevill draws us deeper into the trees and brush as the relentless rainfall paints everything gray and lifeless. The characters of Hutch, Dom, Phil, and Luke are similarly well-drawn and three-dimensional in their portrayal. This realism serves to make the narrative all the more captivating as we become invested in the drama playing out between the hikers and the overwhelming sense of unease as we experience the disquieting events through Luke’s perspective.
By the time the four men discover they’re not alone in the woods, it’s far too late to turn back, and the desperate push forward presents challenges that grow increasingly difficult.
Now, because I’ve seen the movie adaptation as well, I’m going to compare the two. This portion of my post will include spoilers, so anyone seeking to avoid spoilers of either book or film should stop here.
The movie would have benefitted a great deal from incorporating elements that were exclusive to the novel, such as the multi-generational graveyard and the ancient, decrepit church Luke discovered when he ventured off on his own. I loved that whole section of the story, and I think it added something to the atmosphere of the narrative moving forward. Similarly, the familiarity Hutch had with some of the architecture and runic writing was a nice touch that I felt could have made the movie better. I also preferred the absence of the cowardice subplot, wherein Luke did nothing and allowed a fifth friend to die. Unfortunately, with the absence of that subplot, we also lost the element of blurred reality that I enjoyed a great deal in the movie, wherein the god of the forest used illusions and hallucinations to manipulate the men.
The movie was superior once Luke made it to the village near the end. The addition of Dom being present and alive for a portion of that section of the story was a nice touch that I think made for a better overall story. Sure, we had the reconciliation between Luke and Dom in the novel as well, but it felt more appropriate at the point when the men were in captivity and facing the very real probability of death. Removing the irritating caricatures of Loki and Fenris was a great choice, as I almost stopped with the book when those characters insisted on remaining present for altogether too much of the narrative. The random insertion of the fictional, murderous nordic black metal band, Blood Frenzy, felt like a pointless way to share the author’s familiarity with contemporary bands within the genre. Additionally, the portrayal of the god/monster within the movie was spectacular and exceeded anything I imagined from the book.
Overall, I think I enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, which is an uncommon thing…but it does happen.
The audiobook narration provided by Matthew Lloyd Davies was spectacular. He even managed to superbly capture the accents of the characters I’d have preferred to do without. The narration certainly served to add depth and texture to the narrative, something that leapt from the page, so to speak, bringing an extra quality to the words penned by Nevill.

Cucumbers & Comforters by Nikki Noir

Nikki Noir has an exceptional talent for blending supernatural elements with splatterpunk sensibilities. If you haven’t read the Black Planet installments–or the collection of the first four–you are seriously missing out on a writer who is easily one of the best emerging voices of indie horror. If, however, you want to avoid diving into a series, you’re in luck. Nikki has several stand-alone short stories like this fantastic tale.
Jen is still an outsider at school, even after spending a year in the new town where her family moved. One of her only friends is a young boy named Dale, a special boy from an unhappy home. Jen met Dale hanging out near the river, and she began telling him stories. One of those stories Jen shared concerns the Japanese myth of the Kappa. Dale internalized that particular myth and began playacting as a Kappa near the water. But Dale has been missing for a couple of weeks.
Heading home after a party where she’d gotten into an unpleasant verbal exchange with one of the popular girls, Jen is startled and pleased to discover Dale hanging out on one of the rocks near the river. She attempts to take him home, but he resists, insistent on playing a Kappa. Leaving him with the cucumber she’d carried with her–the favorite treat of one of those supernatural creatures–Jen races off to bring attention to Dale’s presence near the river.
From there, Cucumbers & Comforters becomes a barrage of sex, sexual violence, unraveling mysteries, sinister family drama, and myths seemingly come to life. There may be no amount of childlike security found in carrying cucumbers or hiding beneath comforters that will save Jen from the awful repercussions of the events set in motion the night of the party…but you’ll have to read the story to find out for yourself.
If you’re in the mood to read about glowing orbs brutally extracted from human anuses, taboo sexual trysts, and murder, you are in the right place. This is a voyage Nikki Noir is the perfect host to guide you on.

You can obtain your own copy of Cucumbers & Comforters from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on the mobile device of your choice. The link is below:

Gods of the Dark Web by Lucas Mangum

This one is a fast-paced and frenetic descent into horrors that lurk just below the surface of our reality, much as the dark web lurks just below the surface of the conventional, everyday internet of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and such. There are some fascinating parallels to be discovered in this story because of that mirroring aspect.
Most of the novella focuses on true-crime novelist Niles Highsmith and his search for a missing younger brother, Leon. Through Leon’s friends, Niles soon learns that his brother had recently been searching the dark web in hopes of obtaining a firearm for protection–only to be diverted along the way–witnessing perversions and unsettling horrors instead, just before he disappeared.
With no other avenues of inquiry available to him, Niles dives into the dark web as well, unaware of the attention he’s drawing to himself. Fans of the author will be pleased to find references to other works within the story as Niles explores the dark web for himself.
The story, while captivating, takes a backseat to the intense, graphic visuals that Mangum conjures in his writing. If one were to toss the paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski, Salvador Dali, and H.R. Giger into a blender, they might come up with something approximating what Mangum describes in parts of this narrative.

The God Provides by Thomas R. Clark

The newest book from Thomas R. Clark hits the ground running and never lets up.
Beginning with a series of gruesome murders, The God Provides spins the reader a grimly beautiful tale rooted in old-world folklore and modern monster mythology. The blend of fantasy and horror is so perfectly combined as to produce something that transcends both categorizations. What you end up with is a narrative that feels like the modern-day retelling of a forgotten epic masterpiece. At the same time, Clark manages to craft a thrilling tale that feels like something fresh and new that only now sees the light of day.
Delving into the McEntire family’s history–which isn’t at all what it might initially seem–we discover a community in rural upstate New York where ancient gods, witches, werewolves, fae, and other supernatural creatures thrive. All of this in plain view of any who might pass through the region…assuming they aren’t the sacrifices provided by the titular god.
Take one part The Wicker Man (the original, not the god awful remake) and Midsommar, another part The Howling, and toss in some Macbeth and Beowulf for flavor, and you’ll have a recipe that might bring you within spitting distance of this story. You’ll also want to borrow a smidge of the considerable literary prowess Clark brings to the table.
If splatter-folk is a genre…this is the introduction to that world.