The novel “Zona: The Forbidden Land” by Fred G. Baker was published for the first time in 2018.
Grant Taylor had to go to St. Petersburg, Russia, to settle his uncle Randall’s estate after he went missing on an expedition to Siberia, in an unexplored area known only as the Zona. Grant finds the diaries his uncle wrote on previous expeditions, and the descriptions of flora and fauna seem quite imaginative.
There seem to be unclear interests around the mysterious Zona and, after speaking with his uncle’s lawyer and his daughter, Grant ends up involved in a new expedition. Soon, he realizes that that place hides more than he expected, but there are also considerable dangers, starting with giant wolves who don’t take well the arrival of the new expedition.
Adventures set in imaginary places characterized by unusual flora and fauna and sometimes even by unusual sentient inhabitants have been created since time immemorial. In the Victorian era, there was a renewed fame for the theme of the lost world, a place for some reason isolated with characteristics that are different from the rest of the world. This adventurous subgenre was also reprised within the science fiction genre, but its evolution led to setting that type of story on other planets. From this point of view, “Zona: The Forbidden Land”, which reprises the theme of the lost world by setting it on Earth, may seem outdated, but that’s not a judgment of quality.
Fred G. Baker imagined that an isolated area still exists in Siberia, a region where it may be plausible that there are areas where conditions discourage exploration attempts. In the case of the area known simply as Zona, the explorer Randall Taylor directs various expeditions within it but goes missing and is believed dead. Despite himself, his nephew Grant somehow collects his legacy in a new expedition.
“Zona: The Forbidden Land” is a mainly adventurous novel that in the initial part also includes bits that are more typical of a spy story as there are people who seem to have an interest in Zona and act in the shadows. Some science fiction elements fully emerge after the new expedition reaches Zona. At that point, the peculiarities of the local flora and fauna become crucial in the plot. the subsequent discoveries offer continuous surprises with consequences for the humans as well.
In the development of the story, the sexual element is very present. During the expedition, there’s a justification for that type of “activity” due to the development of the plot. Instead, in the early part of the novel, the inclusion of the sexual element frankly I found cheap.
This type of development gave me mixed feelings. The novel begins slowly, laying the foundations of the Zona mystery and the interests around it. It can be intriguing, but it seemed a little too long. However, it’s a small obstacle to get to the main part of the story that starts from the beginning of the new expedition, where the pace becomes much faster.
The adventure in the Zona, with its science fiction implications, is quite engaging in the exploration which is also of the inner side. The members of the expedition face various dangers, but the consequences of what happens to them are remarkable also from the inner point of view with instincts and emotions solicited in ways far out of the ordinary.
“Zona: The Forbidden Land” seemed to me a novel especially aimed at fans of adventurous stories who also appreciate themes that may seem a bit old fashioned such as the lost world. It has its own ending, but some plot elements remain open to be developed in a sequel. The science fiction element is an important addition to the plot, but you can like the novel even if generally you don’t read science fiction.