Welcome to Ryan Tan’s Review of Christopher Golden’s novel Road of Bones.
In “Road of Bones”, Teig creates a documentary about the eponymous highway in Siberia. More than a thousand miles long, the Road of Bones derives its name from the forced labour used to construct it, which caused as many as six hundred thousand deaths. As a film producer, Teig has a history of failed projects and unpaid debts. He owes seven thousand dollars to his cameraman, Prentiss, who accompanies Teig to Siberia because he needs the money, and because he and Teig are close friends. They reach the town of Akhust, where wolves attack and chase them. Forced to speed along the Road of Bones, they risk crashing and becoming part of the road itself.
One of the scariest scenes occurs from the point of view of Prentiss. His guide, Kaskil, finds a stranded girl in Akhust and needs to take her to a safe place. As they move towards Prentiss’s truck, he notices something “wrong with the picture”. The vagueness of this phrase creates suspense, conjuring a “picture” of petrified humans. Like the abandoned town of Akhust, the characters are still and silent; they have become part of Akhust and may never truly escape. The word “picture” also has connotations of attractiveness, generating irony and increasing the reader’s sense of unease.
In an equally haunting scene, Prentiss embraces Teig because he thinks he is going to die. The “chill” felt by Teig shows that expressions of love have been corrupted with the implication that death is near. Love has become synonymous with surrender — the decision to let go of what life one still has. Ludmilla, an old woman who prays for the ghosts under the Road of Bones, literally experiences this coupling of love and death. As she runs out of strength and falls to the ground, she feels the ghosts “wrap around her in a beautiful embrace”. What I find more disturbing is that fear and anguish replace love because they represent a struggle for survival. Teig shivers when Prentiss hugs him, but not when Prentiss screams or curses. Even with their truck intact, the characters are not immune to the Siberian winter, which has extinguished the warmth between them.
The backstories of the characters intrigued me and I wish they had been a little more detailed. Teig feels protective of Una, the girl he finds in Akhust, because she reminds him of his dead sister, Olivia. Teig feels responsible for Olivia’s death and sees rescuing Una as a way of redeeming himself. I found it hard to understand his guilt because he only made brief statements about the circumstances of Olivia’s death, which seemed to dilute its importance. Another character, Nari, reflected on her narcissistic mother, who likewise did not make an appearance in the story. This gave me the impression that Nari’s characterisation was slightly undeveloped. Still, I loved the gulf between Nari and Teig. Despite similar histories, they distance themselves from each other, which makes me melancholic in a wistful way.
Christopher Golden’s “Road of Bones” thoroughly satisfied me with its simple prose and excellent pacing. I look forward to reading more of his works.
This has been a Chamber Magazine production. This review can also be found as a podcast on Spotify and on anchor.fm.