St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022
Hardcover. 240 pages.
About Road of Bones:
"Kolyma Highway, otherwise known as the Road of Bones, is a 1200 mile stretch of Siberian road where winter temperatures can drop as low as sixty degrees below zero. Under Stalin, at least eighty Soviet gulags were built along the route to supply the USSR with a readily available workforce, and over time hundreds of thousands of prisoners died in the midst of their labors. Their bodies were buried where they fell, plowed under the permafrost, underneath the road.
Felix Teigland, or "Teig," is a documentary producer, and when he learns about the Road of Bones, he realizes he's stumbled upon untapped potential. Accompanied by his camera operator, Teig hires a local Yakut guide to take them to Oymyakon, the coldest settlement on Earth. Teig is fascinated by the culture along the Road of Bones, and encounters strange characters on the way to the Oymyakon, but when the team arrives, they find the village mysteriously abandoned apart from a mysterious 9-year-old girl. Then, chaos ensues.
A malignant, animistic shaman and the forest spirits he commands pursues them as they flee the abandoned town and barrel across miles of deserted permafrost. As the chase continues along this road paved with the suffering of angry ghosts, what form will the echoes of their anguish take? Teig and the others will have to find the answers if they want to survive the Road of Bones."
Road of Bones is a chilling thriller set in the freezing clutch of Serbia where two men embark upon a journey that was far more than they bargained for. This book was surprisingly so much spookier than I anticipated and I loved how haunting and unbelievably eerie this story was.
Road of Bones follows documentary producer Tieg as he embarks on his latest idea for a documentary: Kolyma Highway, a desolate road in Siberia where Soviet gulags were stationed and where many prisoners were buried under the road itself. Tieg is an ambitious man who is constantly working through ideas and trying new things, which also ends up meaning that he's not the most reliable person and often leaves people wanting money from him–which is how his friend, Prentiss, ends up agreeing to go with him on this crazy journey.
On their journey along the Road of Bones, Tig and Prentiss first stop to pick up a local guide, Baskil, to help them learn about their surroundings and know where to go. They stop at a few small local towns for food, gas, and rest, and it is while stopping in one particular town that things take a slow turn for the worse... and then things get very bad very quickly. The creepiness factor of this book was so high and I really felt that hair-raising "what's out there??" feeling that any good scary story will prompt. I was impressed by how well Golden managed to have such an incredible slow build of tension and fear that was present both in his careful telling of each character's movement and reactions and in his excellently crafted narrative prose. I won't go into too much actual detail about what exactly was so scary because I think the power of the unknown is very strong in this book.
I think part of me wanted a bit more in the way of the documentary angle. For instance, I knew what Tieg wanted to explore and that part of his visiting the Road of Bones was to find the actual story, but at the same time I feel like we got this really neat setting and historical background of the Kolyma Highway, but that's where it ended and sort of made it feel more like a prop than an actual key part of the plot. And as is expected in any horror/thriller, characters make decisions int his book that I found very stupid and that quite obviously doomed them (in my opinion), but I won't hold that against this book too much. I get a little frustrated by the character device of having a character stuck on something front heir past that heavily influences their decisions now in ways that feel a bit overmuch, so I didn't love that aspect of this book, either, but it didn't really take too much away from my reading experience overall and I still had a great time with this book.
The supernatural elements were woven perfectly into this story via the folkloric and myth-like elements of the region that added much-needed depth and context to the setting. For example, one of the characters mentions the parnee, a potentially malevolent forest spirit that incites a great amount of fear in people living in the region. I really loved these elements and seeing how they worked into the story, and I only wish we had gotten just a bit more explanation around them or context for some of it, as those elements were all used well, but could have had a bit more connection added to the overarching plot and documentary angle.
Overall, I may have had a few complaints, but this book kept me hooked and was a strong, well-written horror/thriller novel and I've given it four stars. If you're looking for a fast, captivating horror with some spooky, edge-of-your-seat moments, then definitely give Road of Bones a read!
*I received a copy of Road of Bones courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*