Smith's Simple Plan is one of the most painfully nerve-wrecking books that I know. It creeps about at a slow pace with characters that you shouldn't really like but you end up playing along and not really sure if you want them all to be happy or to die but you just want to know how it ends.
The Ruins uses a very similar logical pattern. Again you have the slow creepiness. Again you have characters that are flawed and you have to make due. Again you find yourself wanting to know. Well, sort of. Because A Simple Plan is a character-study drama suspense sort of deal where people live and die in the scope of the real world. The Ruins is horror, which means that character death is a plot point, not something to be feared. This change of rules is essentially what largely trips up The Ruins where the former book completely succeeded.
This is not to say that The Ruins fails, at least it didn't for me. The characters (four American friends on a trip to Mexico, a lone Greek and a lone German) are brought to light slowly but surely, especially the four Americans. An interesting style choice is to include the language barrier into the structure of the novel. The German speaks English, but does not think in it. We hear what he is saying but do not get to see into his thoughts. The Greek does neither, so we get descriptions of his gestures. The Mayans which surround the hill are described almost in the terms of puppets. They are things which are not known and cannot be penetrated.
This leads some reviewers to attack the book as being racist, as playing the primitives as being worthless as characters. I think that is a godawful description of what happens, about as valid as saying 2001: A Space Odyssey is all about how there is nothing ever going on in space because it did not go into descriptions about the planets and the stars the whole time.
In the end, the plot goes down one of the three roads that it can and there are few surprises and since the characters aren't all that likable you find yourself less rotting for anyone and more rooting for an idea about how it ends.
Since the book was written with the true nature of the evil being hidden, I will refrain mentioning it in this portion of the review, besides to say that the baddie makes almost no sense. It plays by a logic never explained enough to be well rounded or rational. Which I think is the point, but brace yourself for it.
Recommended with reservation (what is a ranking of Eh in my system). This book is a polarizer, people tend to hate it or love it. I'm choosing pleased indifference, for what it is worth.
There is a constant set of questions asked about this book that are, essentially "Why didn't the Mayans kill the vines?", "Why didn't the Mayans try and help them?", "What the fuck killer plants oh my god?" and "Dude, salt?"
I think an issue not seen by anyone who really hates this book is that the evil of the ruins is probably not just about plants. I mean, it might be, but the people attacked aren't the sort to make informed decisions. Not really. They are all of fair intelligence, but not when it comes to killer plants of the Yucatan. The extreme abilities of the plants, along with the sense of planning and cat and mouse, probably add up to the fact that whatever is infesting that hill is not just plants but some source of evil that has infected the plants. The people killed are of the nature of sacrifices. Sure the Mayans seem to protest, but this might be part of the ritual. You put up a mild protest but ultimately feed the old, dead god his due.
Circles of salt in horror stories are almost always a way of keeping evil in.
How come the missing archaeologists weren't discovered? Hell if I know. This book is all about things being lost in the translation. Maybe they lied about where they were going in hopes of scoring an unmarked dig. Maybe they had heard horror stories and felt there was something more than meets the eye (psychedelic plants or the like) and were trying to fly under the radar. I haven't a clue and I don't think it is meant to matter.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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