A standalone story, Road of Bones is a fictional take on the very real gulags of Stalinist Russia. Writer Rich Douek describes these gulags in a brief essay in the back of the book: "It was a system that took in men and churned out monsters." That is the essence that his story evokes as three prisoners attempt to escape the gulag but are faced with the snowy, mountainous wastes of northern Russia. Atop it all, Roman, the last-minute addition to the escape attempt, is convinced that he is stalked by a mythological creature called the Domovik.
This is a brutal story, with brutal art to match. The color palette is white, black, and blood red, and it's not shy about that fact. There are dense, black chunks of ink mixed with lots of detail lines. Here, it fits with the ugly, battered appearances of the main cast. If I were to change one aspect, it would be that the three escapees are all burly, bearded men in heavy coats and hats, and I found it difficult to tell them apart in some crucial scenes. A few identifiers when they are in their travel gear would be helpful. The artistic moments that really shine, though, are the deaths. The highest compliment I can give the artist is that some frames are legitimately too stressful to look at.
Speaking of hard to look at, the story is just as difficult to read. I don't mean to convey that it was poorly written; it was anything but. This book is brief with not a single word or scene wasted, and it ends the second it needs to. While the gulags are bad, the pin truly drops the moment the prisoners realize they're going to starve before they reach civilization, and the madness begins to take hold. All the while, the writer and artist work together to thread in hints of the Domovik which waits for its moment to strike. The ending of the book is like a horrible crescendo to the tale and, without spoiling how things come to a close, I've never been so chilled by the the word "no."
I think of myself as a horror aficionado - a person always ready for a good ghost story. I was not ready for Road of Bones. It unnerved me and threw me for a loop. I recommend this one with a word of caution: It’s a heavy read and probably not one to take in before dinner. If you love truly grisly stories and ones that feel a little too human, then this story will be perfect for you.
Creative Team: Rich Douek (Writer) Alex Cormac (Artist, Cover Artist)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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