"The Ruins"

I finished this book during lunch today. If I'm at a client, I try to bring my lunch and I'll eat it at my desk, just so I can keep working. But I really wanted to finish the book before my vacation. Basically, it's the story of 4 college-age American vacationing in Mexico. During their stay at the hotel, they meet a German (who speaks English) and some Greeks (who don't speak English). The German eventually informs the Americans that his brother went to visit some ruins and he's been gone for a while, so they go to try to find the brother with one of the Greeks in tow. The find the ruins with a Mayan town nearby. Once they get too close to the ruins, the Mayans refuse to let them leave and force them to climb the hill using guns and arrows. They don't kill any of them, but it's clear that they will use force if they try to leave. The group slowly starts to figure out what is wrong: the vines that grow near the ruins are much more than what they appear.

This is a really good horror novel. There's two aspects that I really like (spoilers ahead). One, because of the language gaps, you never really know why the Mayans will not let anyone leave once they get too close to the ruins. The group makes some guesses during the story, but the underlying reason(s) are never given. Also, because the Greek can't communicate with anyone, he's in a very vulnerable position, something that becomes a big issue when he becomes injured soon after they ascend the ruins. Two, (big spoiler!), the vines aren't all-powerful and just kill all the humans immediately. It takes some time to wear the humans down, and it's done in very subtle, disturbing ways (e.g. they can mimic voices and they seem to be able to do it in ways that upset the humans).

I'd recommend this book. It was not easy to put down, and I enjoyed reading it. It's not for the faint of heart - there's lot of blood and guts and disgusting things that go on, but the prose doesn't just use that to deliver a slasher-based novel. By showing how people can quickly descend when put into stressful, unknown situations, Smith rises above common horror themes.

* Posted at 12.22.2008 07:28:31 PM CST | Link *

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