3 out of 4 stars
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Dr. Grant Taylor’s eccentric uncle Randall’s journals meticulously outline his numerous journeys into the world, including the vast, icy tundra of Siberia. As Grant pours over them after his uncle’s tragic disappearance during his latest expedition, he soon discovers that the most interesting parts are what are not included in the writing.
Grant is immediately pulled into the mystery at his arrival in St. Petersburg, Russia to his uncle’s home. A perplexing home invasion is soon followed by the introduction of Captain Oleg Godunov, who informs him that his uncle’s disappearance may not be as mysterious as he was led to believe. Godunov’s death soon afterward only adds to the clandestine nature of the information he claimed to have, and Grant is quickly swept up into the intrigue. Zona: The Forbidden Land by Fred G. Baker follows Dr. Taylor on his quest to discover what his uncle was trying to find and maybe even find the man himself.
The thing I liked most about the novel is the description of the land as they are venturing through it. It is very fast paced, but Baker takes the time on the page to really describe both the environment and also the atmosphere or mood of the characters. Furthermore, because the novel is structured like a series of journal entries, it really added to the effect of an adventurer observing the land for the first time. This story would really come to life on film as well, and I would love to see a movie based on this work.
The thing I liked least about this novel is some underlying prejudices that I perceived while reading it. The author uses the outdated term “aborigine” for indigenous peoples, and also describes mental health disorders with some derisive stereotypes. I also found the sexual encounters to be fairly misogynistic and made me uncomfortable while reading them, which is unfortunate because there is a lot of sex discussed in this novel. Those aspects, combined with a level of violence, lead me to recommend this novel for more mature readers that are interested in adventure stories with some fantastical aspects.
I am rating this novel a 3 out of 4 stars. The novel is well-written and intriguing with few errors, which is why I do not rate it lower. However, I do not give it 4 stars mainly because I feel like there was a level of disconnect between the first part of the novel and the climactic revelations of the second half. The novel starts with a lot of dialogue and progressive action. I feel there were themes that were built up over the first half of this book that were completely ignored or vaguely written off once the action of the plot picked up. This is problematic when viewing the story as a whole.
Zona: The Forbidden Land
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