Ferocious is a perfect blend of witty dialogue, quirky characters, and nightmarish horror. But what else could we expect from Jeff Strand? When Mia’s parents die in an accident, it’s up to her reclusive, misanthropic uncle Rusty to step up and care for his baby niece. He’s in no way equipped to take on the role of parent, and it’s nothing he ever expected of his life, but he’s determined to do the best job he can. Surprisingly enough, he manages to do a fine job, home-schooling Mia and teaching her his woodworking trade as they live a life of quiet solitude in the forest. He may not have believed it possible at first, but Rusty managed to raise her almost to adulthood, and he’s proud of how she’s grown up. Just as Rusty begins to question whether he’s shortchanged Mia by raising her in such isolation, their world is shattered by wildlife gone mad. Squirrels, birds, deer, wolves, bears, and other creatures have become aggressive and determined to kill Rusty and Mia–but the aggression isn’t the hardest part to comprehend, it’s the fact that they’re all dead. Strand drags us at breakneck speed through a sequence of events that would be horrible under the best of circumstances; but miles into the woods without any hope of salvation nearby, these are far from optimal conditions. Scott Thomas’s narration captures the wry wit of the two protagonists even as they grow increasingly exhausted and violated as the narrative progresses. The quality of the narration never took away from this being a Jeff Strand story, and that’s something to be proud of.
Ronald Malfi’s Bone White is as devastating as it seemed like it might be. When we learn that Paul Gallo’s brother, Danny, had disappeared near Dread’s Hand, Alaska, only a year before a serial murderer wandered into town and turned himself in, we hope for closure as the best-case scenario. The author teases us with the potential for a happy-ish ending, only to string us along through a tale that crosses back-and-forth over the lines between supernatural and superstitious, thriller and horror. Embedded within the larger story of Bone White, Malfi introduces us to multiple, smaller tales that would make for fascinating stories in their own right. This attention to detail and world-building for the remote Alaskan wilderness setting makes the story all the more engaging and impossible to set aside. As we’re dragged through the cold and snow near central Alaska, it’s something you begin to feel in your bones. It’s not just the chill of the environment that gets under your skin, but the chill emanating from the locals who live insular lives with no interest in the outside world or having intruders from the outside digging through their secrets and the fears that underpin them. Paul’s tension and frustration are palpable, and anyone would likely feel the same if they knew their search for the truth about their missing sibling was being stymied by the superstitions and mistrust of the only people who might have the answers. The narration provided by Charles Constant is terrific, his voice weaving the fantastic writing into a thoroughly captivating experience.
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.