An American documentarian and his British cameraman travels a haunted highway across the frozen tundra of Siberia, collecting ghost stories and local legends along the way. Only, when Teig and his team reach their destination, they find an abandoned town, save one catatonic nine-year-old girl―and a pack of predatory wolves, faster and smarter than any wild animals should be.
Surrounded by barren trees in a snow-covered wilderness with a dim, dusky sky forever overhead, Siberia’s Kolyma Highway is 1200 miles of gravel packed permafrost within driving distance of the Arctic Circle. A narrow path where drivers face such challenging conditions as icy surfaces, limited visibility, and an average temperature of sixty degrees below zero, fatal car accidents are common.
But motorists are not the only victims of the highway. Known as the Road of Bones, it is a massive graveyard for the former Soviet Union’s gulag prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to death and left where their bodies fell, consumed by the frozen elements and plowed beneath the permafrost road.
Fascinated by the history, documentary producer Felix “Teig” Teigland is in Russia to drive the highway, envisioning a new series capturing Life and Death on the Road of Bones with a ride to the town of Akhust, “the coldest place on Earth”, collecting ghost stories and local legends along the way. Only, when Teig and his team reach their destination, they find an abandoned town, save one catatonic nine-year-old girl―and a pack of predatory wolves, faster and smarter than any wild animals should be.
Pursued by the otherworldly beasts, Teig’s companions confront even more uncanny and inexplicable phenomena along the Road of Bones, as if the ghosts of Stalin’s victims were haunting them. It is a harrowing journey that will push Teig beyond endurance and force him to confront the sins of his past.
If you are not already cold, Road of Bones is sure to make you shiver. Taking place amidst a Siberian winter, Road of Bones takes readers on a journey across the frozen Kolyma Highway, built upon the bones of Soviet prisoners who died building the road. This locale provides a perfect setting with the reality that one small mistake or misfortune, like a flat tire, and you will freeze to death in a matter of minutes.
While I definitely learned a bit about Siberian folklore while reading Road of Bones, I thought I would learn a bit more about everyday life in Siberia and the history of the Kolyma Highway. That was a bit of a disappointment; however, I understand that educating was not the intention of the book. Instead, Golden dives into the terror and thrillers relatively quickly.
I loved the fast-paced narrative of Road of Bones. I am generally not big into the supernatural, but Golden manages to make the story compelling and at a pace that held my interest. Once the storyline’s tension is built up, it is held tight until nearly the end. This makes Road of Bones a compelling, edge-of-your-seat read. I do think some of the tension and pace comes at the expense of character development, of which I could have used more.
I was super excited to read about the setting in Road of Bones. I have never read a book about or in Siberia and knew little about the Kolyma Highway. However, I found that Golden really only focused on how cold it was. To get an idea of the setting and landscape, I had to Google pictures. Road of Bones could have easily been more atmospheric. But the narrative lacked descriptive elements (even of how cold it felt) to make the setting and events come to life. That was really my biggest issue with this book. You can tell me it is -50 degrees Celsius, but I have never felt that so I need to be told what it is like.
Overall, I enjoyed Road of Bones and would recommend it to those who love a supernatural thriller or horror story.
Road of Bones
January 25, 2022
Note: I received a gifted e-galley of this book from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.