The Forbidden Zone: A Slow Burn Slice of Life Novel with a Chaotic Twist Ending
This review was one of the hardest I ever chose to write. On finishing the book, somewhere after 3AM, I was incredibly disappointed and couldn’t help but leave a 2 star review locked behind spoiler tags as I complained about the twist ending. After cooling off and getting ready for bed I removed the spoilers and quickly wrote a more objective review. Now, after a full night’s rest I finally feel able to write a proper review.
To summarize this novel, The Forbidden Zone begins as a slice of life / coming of age story at a boys camp. The majority of the book is simply telling us about the games and challenges the main character faced though it did a good job of reminding us there was something off in the background. The story was presented to us as a book being written by the main character. This character’s book also included a handful of (fictitious) historical documents added in. Then about three quarters of the way into the novel, the main character directly addresses the reader and tells us things are about to get crazy. At this point it switches to an understandably (given the twist) chaotic perspective to tell the remainder of the story.
Not being overly interested in a boys boot camp story (I went to scout camp, I know what to expect), the primary reason I decided to read this book was the author’s “guess the twist” challenge.
From the publisher:
“A novel with a twist so fiendish you’ll never see it coming. In fact, the author dares you to make a note of what you think the twist is when you reach page 100, 200, and 300, and if any of them are right, he’ll tweet a video message praising you as the greatest reader there ever was, and name a character after you in an upcoming book. Just tweet him at @tjtrott with the hashtag #IGuessedTheForbiddenZone”
This challenge was echoed on the author’s twitter page as well. Seeing that challenge my initial reaction was “yeah right, there’s no way the author will succeed” followed by “let’s give it a chance.” I then spent the majority of the book playing “Guess the Twist” and I may have enjoyed that more than the actual story. While not dead on, my predictions were certainly on track with the actual ending. Regrettably I had hoped for more, especially considering a rather well known movie had a similar premise years earlier. That is why I was so harsh initially.
Ultimately though, I did enjoy reading the book, and I wanted to give it a fair evaluation.
At least in the beginning the writing was a bit choppy and weak. This could have been a deliberate choice by the author to have the style reflect the skill of the main character, in which case it deserves serious praise. Alternatively it could simply have been the real author taking time to find his voice.
There were also some portions which felt out of place or were largely irrelevant (such as the pool scenes). Again this could be the character or the author, unless he replies we will never know.
The bulk of this novel is a slice of life / coming of age story. If you are a fan of that genre you will likely appreciate a lot of what this story has to offer. I wanted something more focused on the supernatural than the “slice of life”, so I found some parts to stretch on longer than I’d prefer. Overall it was interesting to read. It certainly had its high points.
I already mentioned my reaction to the twist, but it deserves a little more attention (without giving spoilers). If I hadn’t been told to expect an amazing twist I would have found this to be a fairly satisfying one. There certainly were clues about it early on, some which became much more obvious in hindsight, so it didn’t come out of nowhere. The perspective change was certainly appropriate considering what happened, but the change from slow burn suspense to chaotic action can certainly be off putting for some people. I saw several reviews which mentioned how much it confused them.
I’m not sure whether or not to recommend this.
- If you were drawn to it by the promise of a unique twist I would not recommend it.
- If you want to play “guess the ending” you might enjoy it.
- If you like slice of life or coming of age stories, and the premise sounds interesting to you, you will likely find it an enjoyable read.
Ultimately if you think you might like it, the kindle version costs a dollar, give it a try and support a lesser known author. I’m certainly willing to read at least one of his other books after having read this.
This review was originally posted to Good Reads but I couldn’t fully format it the way I wanted there so I’m re-posting it here.