By Christopher Golden; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
If you’re looking for a historical novel about the 1,260-mile Kolyma Highway, the Road of Bones, you won’t find it here.
The highway was built by and delivered thousands of prisoners to work camps in Stalin’s gulags. An estimated 250,000 slave laborers and political prisoners who died building the highway from 1932 to 1953 were buried under or around the road, according to Andrew Higgins of the New York Times.
A side road off the Kolyma Highways leads 100 kilometers to Oymyakon, “the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the world” with an average January temperature of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit and a record cold temperature there of minus 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Throughout the area are gold, tin and uranium mines.
Author Christopher Golden has used the Road of Bones as a backdrop for a horror story about a pair of documentary filmmakers looking for ghost stories in the land of sub-freezing winters, abandoned forced labor camps and followers of Shamanism and animism.
Felix Teigland wants to get enough footage to sell a TV series. His cameraman John Prentiss wants to make sure that Tieg delivers the nearly $8,000 that Teig owes him.
They’ve traveled far enough in the sub-zero weather and on the ice-covered road to appreciate the danger of the weather. They arrive at a gas station where they are to pick up their guide Kaskill and have lunch. They then head toward Kaskill’s home at Kahust.
Along the way they see a stalled car and stop to help the driver, a woman named Nari. In this area, drivers habitually never turn off their vehicle’s ignition. If a car can’t be kept running, its gas lines and radiator can freeze in less than an hour. And their drivers not long after.
In Kahust, there is silence except for the popping and cracking of the ice. Many — but not all — of the houses there are abandoned. Lights still shine in some homes. But, as Nari says, “It feels like . . . the last stop before forever.”
Footprints (some bare) lead away from brightly lit empty houses into the woods. Shadowy, supernaturally large, wolf-like creatures come out from the trees. They maul Prentiss’s leg and kill Kaskill. Even as the survivors get in the truck and race back to the last town with a gas station, the creatures keep pace with them at high speed with no signs of tiring.
Nari comes to believe that Kaskill’s niece Ariuma, whom they rescued in Kahust, is possessed and should be given up to the creatures pursuing them. This is unthinkable for Tieg, whose younger sister was kidnapped and murdered while he was supposed to be watching her.
The suspense grows as Tieg, the dying Prentiss, Nari and Ariuma run out of any options except surrender. In a surprising twist, Tieg figures out how to give the forest spirits what they want without killing Ariuma.
If you like horror stories, this is an unusual and interesting one. There’s not a lot of history here about the Road of Bones, and what history there is doesn’t figure into the plot.
About the Author: Christopher Golden (1967 – )
An award-winning author, Christopher Golden has also written and co-written comic books, video games, screenplays and a network television pilot. He has edited short story anthologies including SEIZE THE NIGHT, DARK CITIES and THE NEW DEAD, among others.
His novels include ARARAT, SNOWBLIND and RED HANDS. He has been nominated 10 times for the Bram Stoker Awards in eight categories and has won twice. He specializes in horror, fantasy and suspense novels for adults and teens.
In 2015, he founded the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival.
He lives in his native Massachusetts.