Friday, April 22, 2011

Books Yay!: The Ruins, by Scott Smith

I read this book after Rich Juzwiak of FourFour (and so many other locations) published a defense of the movie version of The Ruins. I hadn't really paid much attention to trailers for the movie and certainly didn't know it was a book adaptation.  However, Rich's defense of the concept and his references to the book itself got me intrigued, so I downloaded the book and waded in.  Rich loves the dregs of pop culture, so I was expecting a so-bad-it's-good experience, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a genuinely good book lurking between the covers. 

The Ruins is a pretty simple story: a bunch of dumb kids go out into the jungle and run into insidious forces that ultimately lead to bad things.  But there's more going on than just that somewhat typical trope.  For one, not all of the vacationers know each other or even share a language.  The danger they face isn't simple either.  There's the general danger of being out of their element, but there are also menacing, mysterious villagers surrounding them and imprisoning them on the ruins, and then, of course...there are the vines.  The vines turn out to be the biggest problem of all.  As it turns out, the vines are sentient, evil plants (don't laugh), and the longer the kids stay on the ruins, they more then understand how dire their straits are. 

It is a mark of Smith's ability that this premise doesn't wind up utterly ridiculous in practice.  The book is full of tension and genuine horror, far more than a book about evil death plants should be.  Part of this is because he plays on the other factors threatening the characters' survival to produce the overwhelming effect people in their situation would likely feel.  There are problems with water and food supplies, since they cannot leave the ruins and the vines exude a stinging sap.  They don't understand why the armed villagers have the ruins surrounded and won't let them leave, and they don't know if the person they followed to the ruins made it or if others are likely to follow.  They have to deal with sunburn and with some massive injuries as a result of falls down an open shaft and other accidents.  On top of all of this, Smith has produced a set of realistic characters, which is to say that there are some that are bossy (though knowledgable), some that are panicky and helpless, some that are straight up jerks.  Having realistic characters in play makes everything much more appealing and much more tense. 

Then there are the vines.  They are truly creepy in all they do.  They grow incredibly quickly and are drawn to blood, even snaking out to suck up pools of it.  The characters eventually realize that the vine has eaten several people, including the ones they followed out to the ruins in the first place.  They also are able to make noise, mimicking voices to turn the captives against each other and making other unnatural sounds to trick them.  It's a great effect and of course you can read as much "Nature's Revenge!!!!" into it as you want to. 

Overall, a surprisingly great read.  It's not long but it packs in the tension and is a creative concept handled really well.  I'd definitely recommend this one!

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