Released: 18 July 2006
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Word Count: 319 pages
A group of four friends (Jeff, Amy, Eric, and Stacy), comprised of two couples, go on a trip to Mexico. While enjoying their long days on the beach filled with too much alcohol and just the right amount of fun, they befriend some other tourists–a German named Mathias and a group of Greek men. Mathias tells Jeff that his brother Heinrich has left in search of a woman he met who is apparently helping with an archaeological dig of an old Mayan ruin. Armed with a map, the friends and Mathias head to find the ruins and Heinrich. What they find, however, is far more sinister.
I find it’s hard to find quality horror books (that aren’t written by Stephen King, Joe Hill, etc). When I came across this book, it sounded promising. I’m a fan of horror movies that take place outdoors (i.e. The Descent, Evil Dead, The Thing, etc) where there’s isolation that helps heighten the tension and fear. A lot of great horrific things can happen in that sort of environment. So, I was excited to read this! And it didn’t disappoint.
The Ruins is a solid horror novel. The characters are pretty superficial–there’s not a lot of depth to them. This doesn’t stop the reader from sympathizing with them once the events start to unfold. I don’t want to give anything away, but what happens once the group gets to a hill (assumedly near the ruins) is that a swarm of Mayans force them up the hill and will not let them leave. If they attempt to, they will die. This, obviously, presents a problem to the friends, who only brought a certain amount of snacks/water with them for the trip.
Smith presents some pretty brutal imagery in this novel, from both what the group has to do to survive the elements, as well as their sinister foe. It’s tough to read sometimes; Smith definitely portrays the tension well. As the novel progresses, the characters get increasingly more upset and angry at themselves and their situation, and this tension comes off well on the page.
I also love that there’s no backstory or origin story to what happens. It just happens. It is what it is. Sometimes, not getting an answer or explanation is incredibly interesting (and frightening) in horror novels or movies. And, I don’t want to give anything away, but I enjoyed how Smith presented the ‘sinister’ elements of the hill. It could have easily been really cheesy or overdone, but I felt he handled it well.
I feel like all this is super vague, but I don’t want to give anything away. I think the less you know about this, the better. So, overall: solid characters and plot, good horror elements, great tension and environment. If you’re a fan of horror movies or novels and haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend! I gave The Ruins four stars.
Until next time, happy reading!