Modern Rituals: The Wayward Three, #1
by J.S. Leonard
I admit it. I judged this book by its cover. The kind of weird fiction art of dark tendrils controlling a man like a puppet was fascinating. Sure the description was kind of like "The Cabin in the Woods" but I was hoping for something different and new. For the first 70% of the book I was disappointed. While it did a better job than Whedon did in the movie explaining how such an elaborate operation could be mounted, I was a bit disappointed that the ideas seemed the same.
Unlike Whedon, Leonard doesn't seek to surprise you with what's going on or leave you bewildered. Leonard expects you to see the movie that inspired him and he even has winks and nods to the movie throughout the book. As a result none of the summary is very spoiler-ish, but if you haven't seen "The Cabin in the Woods", stop now and watch it first.
Ok then? So to summarize, there is an ancient powerful organization called Magnus. They serve one purpose: to maintain a truce between the Old Gods and man by performing/facilitating complex rituals to provide the Gods a sacrifice as they see fit. The book goes between character's viewpoints both as "participants" of the ritual, those to be sacrificed, as well as Magnus operatives. Unlike in Whedon's movie, the participants are selected randomly amongst the about to die and somehow whisked away to a secret installation that resembles a Japanese High School.
For most of the book the characters are trying to unravel what is happening to them and stop a creature like the monster from the Japanese horror film, Ringu, while the operatives are trying to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Just like in Whedon's film, things do go wrong but this is where things begin to diverge. There is something helping the participants and power politics going on among the Magnus operatives.
At the 70% point in the novel the ritual is apparently completed, the survivors are being promised a return to their lives and the political intrigue appears to be about to resolve itself. And the book takes a turn. I won't spoil anything about what happens then but this turned my opinion of the novel around. I think Leonard's turn is fantastic and a good setup for what I assume to be six more novels. I hope the series can keep itself together and am looking forward to getting a hold of the second book (which Leonard has kindly offered for free to people who subscribe to his site for free).
I do have two criticisms. Many of the characters felt a little too stock. I know Leonard means them to be archetypes. Colette's backstory is completely absent and is just a cardboard "succubus", really just a slut as there is nothing sinister to her at all. Keto and Anthony are also woefully underdeveloped. However, I do like that figuring out who matches to what roll is a part of the fun of the book and I was genuinely mislead and surprised when it came to some of the characters' identities.
My other criticism is I think Leonard's conditions for a successful ritual are not met in the end as two of the deaths seem not to actually qualify. I'm really uncertain, but can't get in to it more without spoiling some of the twists.
I received a digital copy of this book for review from NetGalley and the publisher.