By: Christopher Golden
Release Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Award-winning author Christopher Golden’s newest horror novel depicts a cold, frozen landscape that mimics the January landscape of its release date. Road of Bones follows a two-man filming crew as they traverse the Siberian landscape in order to make a documentary about the most northern place still inhabited by humans. However, the only road there is Kolyma Highway, otherwise known as the Road of Bones, for those who died during the road’s construction were simply laid down and buried in the permafrost beneath it.
Golden has a particular knack for using a cold, frigid landscape to the benefit of his novels. Road of Bones is set in the adverse landscape of Siberia, a place where the temperature can drop to -60 degrees. Staying warm and finding shelter is imperative in this area, and is something that very much drives the plot, coming into play within the first few pages of the novel. Golden’s prose brings this landscape to life in a singular way, making it feel as if ice is stinging the reader’s lungs and crunching under boots.
Felix Teigland, “Teig” to his friends, is a producer making his latest documentary. His crew is small, just himself, his best friend working as his cameraman, and their Yakut guide from Oymyakon, the subject of their upcoming documentary. Things immediately begin to go wrong, starting with a woman stranded on the road whose car had broken down, something dangerous at any time of night but especially deadly when the potential outcomes include freezing to death in the far north.
The team expected to battle the elements for their film. That’s why they’re there, after all. Documenting life in such an openly hostile environment was the entire point, but things feel quite different when simply arriving at their destination difficult. Humankind versus nature is a theme in this book, one that begins from the first page, though it certainly isn’t the only or even the main horror theme.
When the team finally arrives in Oymyakon, they find the town abandoned. Doors hang open, swinging in the wind. There’s no sign of the town’s inhabitants, no sign of what could have gone wrong. All they find is a terrified nine-year-old who can’t tell them anything, the events she witnessed appearing to have frightened her into shock. However, what occurred quickly becomes apparent, and the threat is only too real.
A wild, fast-paced ride ensues as our characters race for safety. The slow, snow-inhibited pacing quickly gives way to a feverish, frightening marathon as Teig and his companions attempt to get out of harms way and figure out just what exactly they are running from. Is it mundane or something else, something older and less mortal?
Despite the talk of people buried beneath the main road our characters find themselves on, the plot leans more towards fantasy, the paranormal, and old legend. The scares are real and ever-present, but this isn’t necessarily a ghost story nor something that leans more towards traditional thriller fare, despite what the title may immediately bring to mind.
While the majority of the novel is enjoyable, and the language surrounding the landscape is particularly well-drawn, there are issues with the prose. Certain descriptors feel just so slightly off, almost normal but strange somehow, which pulls the reader out of the story. However, the novel is quickly paced, wonderfully encapsulates the harsh Siberian climate, and can be finished in an afternoon.