Road of Bones by Christopher Golden

Posted On 8 November 2022

Filed under Book Reviews
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My Five Word TL:DR Review: What the heck just happened?


This is going to be a strange review to write because on the one hand Road of Bones was really not what I was expecting it to be, nor did I find it the least bit creepy – although now I’m really thinking about it to write this review I realise that’s not entirely truthful.  It is in fact creepy but it didn’t scare me (if that makes sense – gah, I know what I’m trying to say!).  On the other hand, although it wasn’t the story I was expecting it was still a compelling read and a good one.  So, ultimately does it really matter if this didn’t do or go quite where I expected?

Just to unravel this let’s look a little deeper into what the book is about because it’s absolutely fascinating as a concept and I defy anyone who reads this book to put it down and not be intrigued enough to go and google The Road of Bones, or the Kolyma Highway as it’s also known.  Yes, the Road of Bones is real and it has a shocking history. Built during the Stalinist era the road took over twenty years to build and used slave labour from Gulags along the route.  The conditions were harsh and to date there is no accurate record of the number of deaths that occurred during that period but it is believed that the bones of 250,000–1,000,000 unhappy souls lie beneath the permafrost.  It’s a bit mind numbing isn’t it?

Anyway, as the story begins we make the acquaintance of Teig and Prentiss.  Teig produces documentaries and over the years he’s had successes and failures, unfortunately many of his friends have drifted away, no longer enamoured with his ‘big’ ideas for money making.  Prentiss is Teig’s remaining friend, although Teig does owe him money and the two are hoping that this latest brainchild will reap rewards.  Teig wants to travel the Road of Bones to the coldest place in Siberia, Oymyakon.  Temperatures are believed to reach -60.  This isn’t just a harsh environment in which to live it’s positively life threatening. During the winter months there’s only a few hours of sunshine and even then the clouds keep the place in darkness. If your vehicle breaks down or you turn off the ignition outside it’s more than likely that you’ll die.  Anyway, Teig is hoping for drama, moodiness, intense weather and maybe a few ghostly experiences in order to return home and wow potential investors into backing his latest dream.  Unfortunately his hopes become a very grim reality and he finds himself being pursued.  Teig employs a guide to take him to Oymyakon, they also rescue a stranger en route, a woman whose car has broken down and would have undoubtedly died without their fortunate timing.  The four of them finally arrive at the settlement only to find it’s abandoned.  All the houses are empty. The doors are open. Frozen suppers lie on the tables untouched and trails of footsteps can be seen heading towards the forest, some of them barefoot, as though they left in a hurry.  Eventually the four find a young girl who seems to have retreated into her own mind, unable to speak and possibly scared so badly that she’s positively numb with shock.  From here things take a strange turn.  Large wolves attack and everything goes a little out of control.  I’m not going to elaborate too much from here, this is a fairly short and quick read and I don’t want to spoil it for others.  Basically our characters take to the road and the wolves (or whatever they happen to be) pursue them.

So, this story has a cinematic quality without doubt and I think it would make a stunning adaptation.  The setting itself is practically another character.  It’s so cold that every action our protagonists take has to be considered beforehand.  There’s always a chance that their vehicle won’t start and when you’re being chased you can’t afford to leave such things to chance.  There is plenty of action and I’ll just warn you right now that the body count starts to grow with some shocking deaths and developments. I enjoyed the writing, it’s packed with atmosphere and, as I mentioned the setting itself really lends itself to this type of chiller.

I’m not going to give away the ending, although to be fair, I’m not sure I could explain with any confidence exactly what did happen.  Let’s just say ‘here be monsters’.   We have a Parnee – I took this to be the spirit of the forest.  It has an almost human manifestation and seems to control the shadows and beasts.  I don’t know what its intentions were even now.  Was it driven by unhappy souls?  I’m not sure.  This is more the type of horror/chiller that doesn’t bear too much scrutiny.  I think everyone will have different mileage with this one and so my advice is just sign up for the ride and let the story take you where it will.

There was another aspect to the story that involves an older woman who has a mission of her own, this next part of the review is going to have a slight spoiler so look away now.  I was puzzled by this aspect to the tale. Ludmilla travels the Bone Road praying, I understood her to be a shaman who was trying to bring peace to the unhappy souls who hadn’t moved on.  What puzzled me is that during the story, before we meet Ludmila, there is talk of a woman who haunts the road.  After Ludmila’s involvement concludes there is also talk of a woman who haunts the road, I felt like the two were linked somehow but couldn’t quite figure out how, almost like Ludmila’s presence was a haunting – but that doesn’t seem possible either.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this isn’t really a criticism of the book.  I picked this story up in the firm belief that it was going to be a haunting horror story whereas it turned out to be more an environmental folklore horror story – which, as it happens was very good.  But, I can’t help still wanting to read that haunting horror story that I first anticipated – it feels very much like a story begging to be told.

As it is, I thought this was a gripping, shocking, dark, relentless, sometimes brutal, always compelling, chiller of a story.  Perfect for a winter’s night.  Wrap up warm.  The writing here is enough to give you the chills even if you’re sat in front of a cosy fire.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars

6 Responses to “Road of Bones by Christopher Golden”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Well, even though the story did not take the path you expected. it turned out to still be a gripping tale, and that’s indeed a good thing. I find the story intriguing, but I believe I could not read it without a heavy quilt and a huge pot of tea within easy reach… (((shiver))) 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Michael

    This sounds like an intriguing read and one I will need to consider for the TBR list.

    I think I get what you’re getting at with the chilling vs scary comment. Some things kind of creep you out while others scare the fool out of you.

  3. Tammy

    I had no idea what this was about, so I’m glad I read your review. Definitely one I’d try😁

  4. pagesandtea

    I like books where the setting almost becomes a character in itself and this setting certainly sounds unique.

  5. readinginthewildwood

    I love a good atmospheric story. I might have to save it for the winter.

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I don’t know about this book, but I definitely want to go look up the Road of Bones now. Golden does tend to find the best inspiration from creepy real life places with a lot of dark history.

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