The Ruins by Scott Smith

Rating: 4 of 5

Silly tourists, always traipsing into jungles, unprepared and under-dressed, ignoring the locals’ warnings to turn back. Unlucky for these tourists, what lives in this jungle is not a family of cannibals or a crazed surgeon after their organs.

Here’s the lowdown:

While vacationing in Mexico, four American twenty-somethings – Jeff, Amy, Stacy and Eric – agree to help Mathias, a German tourist they befriended, locate his brother who went missing after an expedition into the jungle. Accompanied by another recent acquaintance, a Greek who calls himself Pablo, they set off on what they believe will be an uneventful hike into the jungle.

Along the way, the six vacationers meet a shady taxi driver who tells them to turn back, and Mayan villagers who ignore their request for directions. Soon after leaving the village, the group uncovers the hidden trail that will (finally) lead them to their destination when, suddenly, they have the Mayans’ full attention. And once they reach the ruins, their hike plummets into a nightmare they could never have imagined, not in their wildest dreams.

Here are my two cents:

Unfortunately I watched the 2008 film adaptation before I read the book, so I knew the secret of The Ruins from the get-go. Knowing didn’t spoil the enjoyment, though; the book was 110 times scarier, and more thought-provoking, than the movie. (Having said that, the characters in the movie were more…vibrant and real.)

Smith placed his characters in situations rife with conflict. He used the setting to its fullest and created an atmosphere of despair and inevitable doom. His descriptions burrowed into my brain, incubated, and later hatched to startling realizations the characters had not yet made for themselves.

It must’ve been a dream, then, though Amy couldn’t remember any details of it; there was simply that instant sense of panic as she sat up, her blood feeling too thick for her veins, moving too fast…But she was awake now…and thirsty, too, her lips sticking together with a gummy, crusty feeling, a foul, cottony taste in her mouth (p. 139).

This wasn’t an action-packed horror novel, per se. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of thrills and suspense. It’s just that, it wasn’t scene after scene of in-your-face “Boo!” and gore. It hinted at danger, teased readers, and then something bad would happen. Then something worse. And so on until the end.

Pablo couldn’t understand a single word of this, of course. He moaned and muttered. Occasionally, he’d lift the arm Eric wasn’t holding and seem to reach for something at his side, though Eric couldn’t guess what, since there was nothing there but darkness (p. 96).

Here’s what you might not like about The Ruins:

* The book doesn’t have chapters.

* Most scenes are told from one of the four American’s POV in the third person. And most scenes alternate the POV so it’s a different character each scene/section. However, you’re never inside Mathias’ head which, I assume, is because he’s German; thus; his thoughts would be in German.

* While there are two characters – Mathias and Jeff – I consider fairly developed, the other four lack characterization and are pretty much stereotypes with splashes of individuality. Amy, the whiny smart chick; Stacy, the ditzy slut; Eric, the apathetic optimist; and Pablo, the sacrificial lamb.

* There are graphic scenes of violence.

* You won’t learn the history behind the ruins or the Mayan village.

Final thoughts

I recommend The Ruins to fans of sci-fi horror who can overlook somewhat under-developed characters to enjoy a fast-paced plot with an unconventional antagonist.

(The notion that not choosing, not making a decision, is still a choice was yummy food for thought; one which I’m still chewin’ on.)

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2 Replies to “The Ruins by Scott Smith

  1. I read this book a couple of years before seeing the movie. Thank God! Another instance of a film not quite capturing the feeling of the book. I really liked this book, but I do agree with you about not learning the history, etc. behind the Mayan Village and its actions. That sucked. It can be done. Anne Rice does it all the time….incorporates the history with a great story. That being said, Smith wrote a pretty scary one here with horrificly graphic imagery. That part was captured in the film and I might could have done without that. šŸ™‚

    Great review!

    1. Hiya, Michelle!

      To clarify, I didn’t mind not knowing the history. šŸ™‚ I just knew some readers probably would mind the missing explanation, so I made sure to point it out in my review. For me, someone/something is scarier when you I don’t know the how or the why.

      Perhaps Smith felt not knowing would increase the fear factor? Plus, the plot unfolds at a faster pace when backstory or reasons are withheld. Anne Rice’s vampires or Mayfair witches, to me, fall more into literary/historical horror; whereas, The Ruins would be more thriller or sci-fi horror. One is more about characters, setting, history: depth. The other more about action, suspense, shock value: entertainment.

      Yes, the film definitely captured the violence. But film often has no problem doing that LOL. For some reason, it seems filmmakers are afraid to not show everything and allow our imaginations to fill in the blanks. Part of me wonders if that’s an American thing…especially after all the foreign films I’ve watched that are tons better at atmosphere and implied violence.

      Many thanks for stopping by and sharing your feedback!

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