One of the New York Times Book Review's Best Crime Novels of 2017
“Warning: you'll finish this in one sitting.” —TheSkimm
“Expertly made thriller . . . clever and irresistible.” —The New York Times
An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.
The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.
Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.
A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself—from its tender moments of grace to its savage power—Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Gin Phillips is the award-winning author of The Well and the Mine and Come In and Cover Me. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her family.
Read an Excerpt
For a long while Joan has managed to balance on the balls of her bare feet, knees bent, skirt skimming the dirt. But now her thighs are giving out, so she puts a hand down and eases onto the sand.
Something jabs at her hip bone. She reaches underneath her leg and fishes out a small plastic spear-no longer than a finger-and it is no surprise, because she is always finding tiny weapons in unexpected places.
"Did you lose a spear?" she asks. "Or is this one a scepter?"
Lincoln does not answer her, although he takes the piece of plastic from her open hand. He apparently has been waiting for her lap to become available-he backs up, settling himself comfortably on her thighs, not a speck of sand on him. He has a fastidiousness about him; he never did like finger painting.
"Do you want a nose, Mommy?" he asks.
"I have a nose," she says.
"Do you want an extra one?"
His dark curls need to be cut again, and he swipes them off his forehead. The leaves float down around them. The wooden roof, propped up on rough, round timber, shades them completely, but beyond it, the gray gravel is patterned with sunlight and shadows, shifting as the wind blows through the trees.
"Where are you getting these extra noses?" she asks.
"The nose store."
She laughs, settling back on her hands, giving in to the feel of the clinging dirt. She flicks a few wettish grains from under her fingernails. The Dinosaur Discovery Pit is always damp and cold, never touched by the sun, but despite the sand on her skirt and the leaves stuck to her sweater, this is perhaps her favorite part of the zoo-off the main paths, past the merry-go-round and the petting barn and the rooster cages, back through the weedy, wooded area labeled only woodlands. It is mostly trees and rocks and a few lonely animals back here along the narrow gravel paths: There is a vulture that lives in a pen with, for some reason, a rusted-out pickup truck. An owl that glares at a hanging chew toy. Wild turkeys that are always sitting, unmoving; she is not positive that they actually have legs. She imagines some cruel hunter's prank, some sweat-stained necklace strung with turkey feet.
She likes the haphazard strangeness of these woods, which are always shifting into some halfhearted try at an actual attraction. Currently a zip line is strung through the trees, although she never sees anyone zip-lining. She remembers animatronic dinosaurs here a couple of years earlier, and once there was a haunted ghost trail. There are hints at more distant incarnations: large boulders that she assumes are real but possibly are not, plus split-log fences and a pioneer cabin. No obvious purpose to any of it. Empty cement pools might have been watering holes for large mammals. There are occasional efforts at a nature trail, random signage that makes a walk feel less anchored rather than more-one tree labeled sassafras while the twenty trees around it go nameless.
"Now, let me tell you something," Lincoln begins, his hand landing on her knee. "Do you know what Odin could use?"
She does, in fact, know a great deal about Norse gods lately.
"An eye store?" she says.
"Yes, actually. Because then he could stop wearing his eye patch."
"Unless he likes his eye patch."
"Unless that," Lincoln agrees.
The sand around them is scattered with small plastic heroes and villains-Thor and Loki; Captain America, Green Lantern, and Iron Man. Everything comes back to superheroes lately. Pretend skeletons lurk beneath them in this sand pit-the vertebrae of some extinct animal protrude from the sand behind them, and there is a bucket of worn-down paintbrushes for brushing off the sand. She and Lincoln used to come here and dig for dinosaur bones, back in his former life as a three-year-old. But now, two months after his fourth birthday, he is several incarnations past his old archaeologist self.
The dinosaur pit is currently the Isle of Silence, the prison where Loki, Thor's trickster brother, has been imprisoned, and-when questions of extra noses don't arise-the air has been echoing with the sounds of an epic battle as Thor tries to make Loki confess to creating a fire demon.
Lincoln leans forward, and his epic resumes.
"The vile villain cackled," Lincoln narrates. "But then Thor had an idea!"
He calls them his stories, and they can last for hours if she lets them. She prefers the ones where he invents his own characters. He's concocted a villain named Horse Man, who turns people into horses. His nemesis is Horse Von, who turns those horses back into people. A vicious cycle.
Joan is half-aware of Lincoln's voice changing tones and inflections as he takes his different characters through their paces. But she is pleasantly drifting. In the mornings these paths would be crowded with strollers and mothers in yoga pants, but by late afternoon most visitors have cleared out. She and Lincoln come here sometimes after she picks him up from school-they alternate between the zoo and the library and the parks and the science museum-and she steers him to the woods when she can. Here there are crickets, or something that sounds like crickets, and birds calling and leaves rustling but no human sounds except for Lincoln calling out his dialogue. He has absorbed the patter of superhero talk, and he can regurgitate it and make it his own.
"There was a secret weapon on his belt!"
"His evil plan had failed!"
He is vibrating with excitement. Every part of him is shaking, from the balls of his feet to his chuffy fists. Thor bobs through the air, and Lincoln bounces, and she wonders if he loves the idea of good conquering evil or simply an exciting battle, and she wonders when she should start making it clear that there is a middle ground between good and evil that most people occupy, but he is so happy that she does not want to complicate things.
"Do you know what happens then, Mommy?" he asks. "After Thor punches him?"
"What?" she says.
She has perfected the art of being able to listen with half of herself while the other half spins and whirls.
"Loki has actually been mind-controlling Thor. And the punch makes him lose his powers!"
"Oh," she says. "And then what?"
"Thor saves the day!"
He keeps talking-"But there's a new villain in town, boys!"-as she curls and straightens her toes. She thinks.
She thinks that she still needs to come up with a wedding present for her friend Murray-there is that artist who does dog paintings, and one of those seems like a thoughtful choice, so she should send an e-mail and see about placing the order, although "order" is probably an insulting sort of word to an artist. She remembers that she meant to call her great-aunt this morning, and she thinks that maybe instead-she is solving problems left and right here, having a burst of mental efficiency as Loki gets buried in sand-maybe instead she will mail her great-aunt that hilarious paper bag monkey that Lincoln made in school. Surely the artwork is better than a phone call, although there's a certain selfishness to it, since she hates to talk on the phone, and, all right, it is a cop-out-she knows it-but she settles on the paper bag monkey regardless. She thinks of the squash dressing her great-aunt makes. She thinks of the leftover plantain chips in the kitchen cabinet. She thinks of Bruce Boxleitner. Back in junior high she was slightly obsessed with him in Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and she has discovered that the show is available in its entirety online, so she has been rewatching it, episode by episode-it holds up well for a 1980s show, with its Cold War spies and bad hair-and she can't remember whether Lee and Amanda finally kiss at the end of the second season or the third season, and she has six more episodes to go in the second season, but she could always skip to the third.
A woodpecker hammers somewhere nearby, and she is pulled back to here and now. She notices that the wart on Lincoln's hand is getting bigger. It looks like an anemone. There is that beautiful shifting of shadows on the gravel, and Lincoln is doing his evil villain laugh, and it strikes her that these afternoons with her son's weight on her legs, the woods around them, are something like euphoric.
Thor falls against her foot, his plastic head landing on her toe.
"Why doesn't Thor wear his helmet in the movie?"
"I think it's harder to see with a helmet on."
"But doesn't he want his head protected?"
"I suppose sometimes he wears it and sometimes he doesn't. Depending on his mood."
"I think he should protect his head all the time," he says. "It's dangerous to battle without a helmet. Why do you think Captain America only wears a hood? It's not good protection, is it?"
Paul gets bored with this superhero chatter-her husband would much rather talk football formations and NBA lineups-but Joan doesn't mind it. She was once obsessed with Wonder Woman. Super Friends. The Incredible Hulk. Who would win in a fight, she once asked her uncle, Superman or the Incredible Hulk? He'd said, Well, if he was losing, Superman could always fly away, and she'd thought that a blindingly brilliant answer.
"Captain America has his shield," she tells Lincoln. "That's what he uses for protection."
"What if he can't get it over his head in time?"
"He's very fast."
"But still," he says, unconvinced.
"You know, you're right," she says, because he is. "He really should wear a helmet."
Some sort of man-made rock forms the back wall of the pit, beige and bulging, and a small animal is rooting around behind it. She hopes it is not a rat. She imagines a squirrel but makes a point not to turn her head.
She opens her purse to peer at her phone. "We probably need to start heading toward the gate in around five minutes," she says.
As he often does when she says it's time to stop playing, Lincoln acts as if she has not spoken at all.
"Does Dr. Doom always wear a mask?" he asks.
"Did you hear me?" she asks.
"What did I say?"
"That we're about to leave."
"Okay," she says. "Yes, Dr. Doom always wears a mask. Because of his scars."
"Yeah, the scars he got in the lab experiment."
"Why would he wear a mask because of them?"
"Because he wants to cover them up," she says. "He thinks they're ugly."
"Why would he think they're ugly?"
She watches a bright orange leaf land. "Well, they made him look different," she says. "Sometimes people don't want to look different."
"I don't think scars are ugly."
As he's speaking, a sharp, loud sound carries through the woods. Two cracks, then several more. Pops, like balloons bursting. Or fireworks. She tries to imagine what anyone could be doing in a zoo that would sound like small explosions. Something related to the Halloween festivities? They've strung up lights all over the place-not here in the Woodlands but all over the more popular pathways-so maybe a transformer blew? Is there construction going on, a jackhammer?
There is another bang. Another and another. It sounds too loud to be balloons, too infrequent to be a jackhammer.
The birds are silent, but the leaves keep skittering down.
Lincoln is unbothered.
"Could I use my Batman for Dr. Doom?" he asks. "He wears black. And if I use him, can you make him the right kind of mask?"
"Sure," she says.
"What will you make it with?"
"Tinfoil," she suggests.
A squirrel scrabbles across the roof of the dirt pit, and she hears the soft whoosh of its impact when it leaps to a tree.
"And what will we use for the scarves?" Lincoln asks.
She looks down at him.
"Scarves?" she repeats.
He nods. She nods back, considering and replaying. She gives herself over to deciphering the workings of his brain: it is one of the bits of mothering that has delighted her all the more because she did not know it existed. His mind is complicated and unique, weaving worlds of its own. In his sleep sometimes he will cry out entire sentences-"Not down the stairs!"-and there are windows to his inner machinery, glimpses, but she will never really know it all, and that is the thrill. He is a whole separate being, as real as she is.
Scarves. She works the puzzle of it.
"Do you mean the scarves on his face?" she asks.
"Yes. The ones he thinks are ugly."
She laughs. "Oh. I was saying 'scars'-you know, like the one on Daddy's arm where the water burned him when he was little? Or the one on my knee from when I fell down?"
"Oh," he says, sheepish. He laughs, too. He is quick to get a joke. "Scars, not scarves. So he doesn't think scarves are ugly?"
"I don't really know how Dr. Doom feels about scarves," she says.
"He doesn't have them on his face."
"No. Those are scars."
She listens, half considering whether she could have handled the idea of scars more tactfully, half wondering about gunshots. But they could not have been gunshots. And if they had been, she would have heard something else by now. Screams or sirens or a voice coming over a loudspeaker making some kind of announcement.
There is nothing.
She has been watching too many battles.
She checks her phone. They only have a few minutes until the zoo closes, and it is entirely possible that they might be overlooked back here in the woods. She has imagined the scenario more than once: camping in the zoo overnight, maybe even intentionally hiding back here, going to visit the animals in the pitch-black of midnight-children's books are written about such situations. It's ridiculous, of course, because there surely would be security guards. Not that she has ever noticed a security guard here.
They should get moving.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Most boring book of my whole life...I read alotttt of different books and what a waste I didn't even finish blahhh
Disturbing, exciting, tender, and a book that can make any parent chuckle, weep and cringe in fear of the unexpected.
Read this book! I could not put it down. The characters and the action kept my interest. I will definitely read others by this author.
This could have really been an excellent thriller. All it needed was faster pacing, a little less introspection, and stronger characterization. In Fierce Kingdom, Joan and her son Lincoln become trapped in the zoo when a group of gunmen open fire on the last few patrons of the day. There is no known plan, no demands - these men are here to show that they can kill and so they will. Joan and Lincoln arrive on the scene after the damage has been done, and Joan knows she and her young son need to hide. Throughout the story, the pair face difficult choices, meet survivors and their captors, and do what they must... to live. I don't intend this to be a particularly salty review, but as far as thrillers go, I feel like Fierce Kingdom fell a bit dead. The whole first half of the book was in one character's perspective with several interesting thoughts, but not enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. There was a lot of sitting around and waiting. Even as we got further into the story, it was difficult to differentiate between the different perspectives. They all seemed to run through the same emotions and reflections. Frankly? I was bored. And thrillers, of all novels, should never bore. The setting was interesting, and I think in the right hands, the characters would have more potential. The pacing was a huge problem for me, and none of the characters really clicked, so I found myself completely uninterested in the story. The ending was anti-climatic, and I was generally unimpressed. BUT. This is how I am with thrillers. I'm either obsessed with them, or bored. This one wasn't for me, but you may love it.
"Fierce Kingdom" is an, at times, intense, and at other times, slow read that begins with Joan spending the afternoon with her toddler, 4-year-old Lincoln, at the zoo. As they are rushing to the exit at closing time, she hears some strange sounds. Then, when she sees the bodies, she realizes there is an active shooter. She immediately grabs her son and runs back into the zoo, hoping to find a place to hide. Trying to keep her toddler quiet and escape this situation alive is no easy task. With several near misses and a seemingly endless time trapped in the zoo, Joan is on the edge but desperate to keep her son alive. While there are several near misses with the shooters which add a great deal of tension and a thriller-feel, times between are filled with Joan's general reflections on herself and her child, broken only by the child himself. Some of the choices she makes are somewhat illogical, but this makes sense, since it is a stressful situation. The book definitely has those moments where you want to yell at the character to tell them what to do. However, this could be realistic considering the high pressure nature of the situation. I found the pace to speed up and slow down quite a bit, and the book felt a little stretched in terms of the story where it dragged a bit in the middle (though the introduction of new characters aids in this). Overall, it fits somewhere between thriller and fiction, and my biggest gripe is over the ending which is not as clear as I wish it was (I like to have very clear endings). I would have liked another chapter or epilogue to wrap it up, but I acknowledge that this is personal preference. Please note that I received a copy through a goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own.
Read it in 2 hours could not put it down!
A tense, gripping story about a woman and her young son fighting to stay alive during an active shooting situation at the zoo. After a lovely day at the zoo, Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln, slowly make their way to the exit when shots ring out. At first, the sounds do not make any sense. Fireworks? At the zoo? At the end of the day? As Lincoln chatters away, Joan sees the first body. She’s barely had time to process what’s she’s seen before she is picking Lincoln up and running for their lives. This book will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. I chose it for my birthday read but it was far from relaxing! Phillips does an awesome job of setting the scene. It’s the zoo, after all and while reading I could “see” all of the animals, the foliage, the enclosures and I could “smell” everything too. I was right there with Joan and Lincoln and let me tell you, it was like I was living it myself. The entire book is Joan and her son trying to survive. As you can imagine, keeping a four-year-old entertained and quiet is hard on any day but when you are trapped in an enclosure and every sound could give you away, finding ways to keep your son happy becomes a priority. Lincoln is a great kid but he gets hungry, thirsty and needs to go to the bathroom. He doesn’t understand what is going on or why they have to hide even though he’s clear who the bad guys are. It’s all an adventure to him but for Joan, she is beside herself with worry. Will they make it out alive? I really enjoyed this book. It gave me such anxiety to read it but I read it in one sitting and it just seemed so authentically written. The mom stuff, the kid stuff, and the setting. With so few characters, I’m sure the challenge was how to keep it going but Phillips did. If you want to spend a few hours totally riveted, then pick up a copy of Fierce Kingdom. It’s been picked up for a movie adaptation too.
After reading this in one night, I feel like I watched a movie of myself riding on a roller coaster. From the first page to the end, I could not put this book down. The premise of the story is Joan and Lincoln are quickly leaving the city Zoo at closing time and they witness something which causes Joan to run back into the park. From this moment on, the reader is on a loopy-loop ride of suspense, as Joan finds safety for her son and others trapped in the zoo. Amazing how this author brought me through this horrifying two hour experience where I may now be more concerned about my safety as well as my family when entering a public place. She touches on the frightening events and prejudices which have occurred in America where we do not have control and how these situations can happen to me or anyone at any time. If you like a "sit on the edge of your seat" nail biting thriller, than put this one on your must read list. Thank you Netgalley.
You will not be able to put this book down. It is a true suspense novel. I loved it! The imagery is so real and the intense emotion makes it such a page-turner.
I listened to this novel and I went into this novel expecting some intense moments. This is what I was envisioning: a mother with her small child trapped inside a zoo while there were individuals with guns running throughout the facilities, animals feeling the intensity and responding therefore noises and some chaotic moments, other individuals trapped inside the zoo (smart, educational people and some irrational crazy ones) which would add drama and intensity to the novel and some police action. I felt that I was cheated, I only witnessed part of the action. I wanted more drama and action. The novel started off intense, the situation began and I was ready but then it fizzled out and I felt that we were hiding in a box while the rest of the world went on without us. It’s not like I wanted death or shots to be fired but I wanted to know more than what was happening in my little box. I was getting frustrated with the mother. I wanted to run out into the main area and find someone else to hide with. When she finally emerges, and meets up with a few others in the restaurant, the novel was beginning to get interesting again but it was the others who were supplying the drama. I’m glad that I listened to this novel as the premise was fantastic, the novel just didn’t back it up. 2.5 stars
Fierce Kingdom is a great suspense novel. I read it in just two days. Most suspense stories these days seem to be about single women being pursued by a scary man – boyfriend, husband, stranger – regardless, they all seem the same. This book is quite different. It’s about a woman, Joan, and her 4 year-old son who get trapped inside the zoo when there is a mass shooting. Joan has to try to get herself and her child alive without revealing to him just how dangerous their current situation actually is. I really enjoyed this book. I was sucked into the story right away. I related to Joan because I am also the mother of one son (although he’s now 7 years old). I felt for the other characters trapped in the zoo, and I liked that the author also put the reader inside the gunman’s head as well. This book was very well done. The characters and the situation were very realistic. Joan was amazing – quick thinking and a wonderful mother. I know a lot of people can’t handle books about kids in danger, but if you’re not one of those people, then I highly recommend this book. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-fierce-kingdom-by-gin-phillips/
This is an amazingly tense and impacting story. It's set over just a three hour timeline with very few characters, in fact, most of the book is mother and four year old son, Joan and Lincoln. Very briefly so as not to give too much of the plot away, Joan and her son Lincoln are packing up to leave the zoo close to closing time. Lincoln doesn't want the zoo trip to finish and Joan is having a tussle getting him to put a spurt on before the zoo gates are locked for the night. As they get close to the gates, it becomes clear to Joan that the cracking noises she's been hearing are gun shots and around the exit path are bodies laid dead. Thinking quickly, Joan back tracks with Lincoln to try to hide from the gunman/men. I will say no more of the story, you really need to read this for yourself. Every moment with Joan and Lincoln is tense and gripping. Imagine trying to keep a four year old quiet and occupied for goodness knows how long the siege will last. Joan doesn't want to frighten Lincoln with the reality of what's happening, that could lead to noise and tears, but she needs to instill in him the seriousness of their situation to make him obey her instructions. The chapters are set into time frames starting at 4.55pm when Joan is coaxing Lincoln to get ready to leave the zoo which closes at 5.30pm, through to the nail-biting concluding climax at 8.05pm. There are some lovely moments of tender conversation between mother and son and also times of great frustration with such a young child needing the toilet, food and non-stop chatter. This really is one of the most intensely riveting books I've ever read. I found it difficult to put down for a meal and at bedtime, and my thoughts stayed with the siege at the zoo for days afterwards. It's certainly a book to be recommended and an author to watch out for.
Beautifully crafted; the characters will stay with you for a long, long time.
3.5 Stars There is a moment, in the beginning, where sweetness reigns, the innocence of youth, those moments where parents are reminded of the sweetness, innocence and goodness that abounds in their children in those snippets of time. ”’Do you want a nose, Mommy?’ he asks. ‘I have a nose,’ she says. ‘Do you want an extra one?’ ‘Who wouldn’t?’ His dark curls need to be cut again, and he swipes them off his forehead. The leaves float down around them. The wooden roof, propped up on rough round timber, shades them completely, but beyond it, the gray gravel is patterned with sunlight and shadows, shifting as the wind blows through the trees. ‘Where are you getting these extra noses?’ she asks. ‘The nose store.’ She laughs, settling back on her hands, giving into the feel of the clinging dirt.” It is their favourite part of the zoo, a quiet spot, and quiet is something rare in her life these days, as Lincoln rarely goes a minute without talking. Villains and heroes, superheroes are his latest obsession, her purse no longer her own, a temporary lodging for his superheroes, their swords and whatnots. His stories, the adventures he creates for these plastic architects of extraordinary doom and mayhem. The afternoon is fading, and the zoo is closing soon, but Lincoln and Joan must head home, Lincoln lost in his latest episode he’s creating between Loki and Thor, Joan lost in thoughts of what to get a friend for their wedding gift, and now they’ve waited a bit too long and must hurry in order to get to the gate before they’re locked in. And then she hears sounds in the distance, like fireworks or balloons being popped. Another. And another. And another. But the zoo is closing in just a few minutes, so they must rush if they are going to make it, and she’s trying hard to convince him of this and to make sure she has all of his superheroes safely in tow, she doesn’t have time to contemplate and analyze what she’s heard. And as they are rushing as quickly as a mother with a young boy dragging his feet can go, she notices that some of the scarecrows the zoo had put up for decorations have fallen, laying on the ground. And then she realizes those are not scarecrows. She grabs hold of her son and hoisting him up to carry him. She runs. My stomach is past being tied up in knots, it has turned into one knot; this large one has consumed all the little knots inside. My brain is throbbing from holding my breath so much while reading this intense story. The author left open-ended some of the threads of the additional characters. I could understand, perhaps, leaving all but one open-ended, but that one? No. I think if it had been the last thing I had said, I would have made sure that someone knew… I loved having the timeline for this story, seeing how the minutes were ticking by. Joan’s thoughts, as a mother, seemed realistic to me, as did Lincoln’s behavior – most of the time. I loved the bond between Joan and Lincoln, their bond, the love and trust they had in each other was what spoke loudest to me, and what kept me turning the pages. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Penguin Group / Viking
A mother’s animalistic instincts to protect her child come to the forefront in the latest literary work by Gin Phillips. “Fierce Kingdom” is the fifth novel by this award-winning Alabama native. The zoo is a frequent escape for Joan and Lincoln, her 4-year-old son. After visiting the animals, they end most of their visits in Lincoln’s favorite spot under the trees and off the beaten path. It’s a quiet spot near the back of the zoo where his imagination can run wild with his little action figures and his mom can kick off her flip-flops. After what has been just another day at the zoo, it’s time to leave. The facility is closing soon, so Joan and Lincoln make their way to the front gate. Like most kids, Lincoln is no hurry to leave, so he dawdles and literally drags his feet as others rush past them. In a blink, however, fun turns to terror. To describe this novel as “ripped from the headlines” would be an understatement considering recent news events. Someone, perhaps more than one, is shooting people. Not only can Joan hear distant shots, but she sees bodies on the ground and blood on the pathways. Her only safe route is to return to the depths of the zoo, a place she knows intimately from their frequent visits, and hopefully wait out the bad guys. Mother and son now are entrapped within the same fences that cage the animals. What was once a peaceful place is now a killing field where no human or beast is safe from human predators. Joan doesn’t know what’s happening outside the fences. Are the police coming? Do they know the shooters are several young men with a fondness for guns? She knows her surroundings, but that’s all. Where are the gunmen? Are she and her the only survivors? How many have been killed or injured? A mother’s instincts to protect her child are all that Joan has to keep her son safe. For three hours, she runs, often with her son in her arms. Not only does she have to find hiding places, but she must keep her talkative little boy quiet and calm under extraordinary circumstances. Even as they come across a few survivors, including a baby placed in a trash can for safekeeping by another desperate mom, Joan must keep going. Shoeless and injured from falls in the dark, Joan seeks safety deeper and deeper into the zoo’s darkest and guarded areas. That sense of desperation comes across strongly in Phillips’ writing. The novel takes place over only a few hours, but the fear and tension feel timeless. With sharp descriptions and attention to detail, this skilled writer gives voice to what definitely is one of a mother’s worst nightmares. The author gives depth to her characters through her words, but she also allows readers to ponder that animal instinct to survive as well as protect one another. Once a reader starts to read “Fierce Kingdom,” there’s no putting it down until the last page is read.
4.5 STARS!!! Wow, I literally held my breath pretty much through most of this book. A story of a mother, Joan, and her 4 year old son, Lincoln, who are on a normal trip to the zoo. It's a pretty regular trip for them, as they do it a lot. They have their special places and animals to see. Lincoln is a very creative child coming up with all kinds of stories with a very extended vocabulary. On this visit to the zoo, they are preparing to leave, as it is closing time, when Joan hears gunshots coming from the entrance of the zoo. Then . . . prepare to take your last breath. The action and suspense that follows while Joan and her very rambunctious son spend over 3 hours trying to hide from the shooters. They pass fallen lifeless bodies, both human and animal. Lincoln, true to his age, has a very hard time keeping quiet, especially after several hours and he is hungry. This book at me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and zipping through the pages. A well written story that will definitely make you stay up past your bedtime. Thanks to Penguin Group/Viking and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Fierce Kingdom is an absolutely heart-pounding, nail-biting thriller. The author puts you right in the action with Joan and Lincoln and it is told in “real time” kind of like the TV show “24” making it super intense and suspenseful. Once you start reading you won’t want to put it down so you might want to clear your schedule in preparation! It’s especially chilling because it seems so possible in real life. We hear stories about this kind of rampage shooting way too often and it isn’t very difficult to imagine yourself in this exact situation. While we spend most of the story with Joan and her son, there were a few short chapters from the point of view of the other characters so the reader receives a bit more information than Joan has access to herself. There were so many times where I was mentally trying to communicate with her to stay hidden. Of course, like in a horror movie when you are screaming “don’t go into the basement!!!” she usually did the opposite of what was wise. She made quite a few questionable decisions but I suppose that if she always did the right thing there wouldn’t be a good story to tell. There were a few loose ends that were never tied up at the end and I really wonder about some of them because they are kind of important. (view spoiler) I should give a warning that there are animal deaths in this story. Not surprisingly, gunmen in a zoo=dead animals. There is also a reference to animal abuse which involves cats that is very disturbing. I notice in the acknowledgements the author thanks Donny Phillips for “his cat escapades.” I am sincerely hoping that this isn’t referring to the form of cat torture that is detailed in the book! I would hardly term it “escapades!” This just reconfirms that people are horrible and animals are too good for this world. So says the cat lady! Thank you to Random House Canada for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
"Fierce Kingdom" is a gripping, insightful story about the lengths a mother will go for her child when trapped in a zoo with active shooters on the loose. The plot is that of a thriller, but it becomes so much more as it unfolds mainly through the actions, reactions, and thoughts of the mother, Joan, in a realistic and relatable way. As a mom, I found myself immersed in Joan's mind, wondering if I would react in the same way, torn when she was torn, desperate when she was desperate. I was impressed with the nuanced depiction of this mother thrust into an extreme situation. This book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thrilling story and characters that were relatable and interesting. I will definitely be reading Gin Phillips' other books.