Fierce Kingdom: A Novel

Fierce Kingdom: A Novel

by Gin Phillips


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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?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735224520
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/24/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 130,041
Product dimensions: 5.14(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.71(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

4:55 p.m.

Excerpted from "Fierce Kingdom"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Gin Phillips.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. The entire novel takes place over the course of about three hours. Discuss what techniques the author uses to create a sense of urgency over the course of the story.

2. The author is very sparing in the details she reveals about Joan’s life prior to this day at the zoo. Why do you think the author does this? What effect does this have on the storytelling?

3. Do you agree with the way that Joan explains the situation to Lincoln?

4. Why do you think part of the story is told through Robby’s point of view? Are we meant to sympathize with him?

5. What do you make of Joan’s decision not to help the woman with the crying baby? What would you do if you were in Joan’s shoes?

6. Why do you think Robby is so respectful of Mrs. Powell? Is it important that Mrs. Powell remembers him? If she hadn’t, do you think he still would have let her go? Why do you think Robby lets Mrs. Powell go?

7. What do you make of Joan’s decision not to follow Robby’s suggestion to go toward the sea lions? Do you agree with her choice? What would you have done?

8. Over the course of the novel, Joan has prioritized the survival of her son, choosing not to help others when given the opportunity. Why do you think she ultimately decides to put her own safety at risk to help Kailynn when Kailynn is cornered by Mark and Robby? Does Joan choose to help Kailynn only because she no longer has Lincoln by her side?

9. What do you make of the ending of the novel? Do you think Joan survives?

10. What role do stories—television shows, movies, family anecdotes—play in the novel? How do stories shape these characters and their actions (for better or worse)?

Customer Reviews

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Fierce Kingdom: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most boring book of my whole life...I read alotttt of different books and what a waste I didn't even finish blahhh
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disturbing, exciting, tender, and a book that can make any parent chuckle, weep and cringe in fear of the unexpected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
TheLiteraryPhoenix More than 1 year ago
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.
onemused More than 1 year ago
"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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it in 2 hours could not put it down!
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Blondeness128 More than 1 year ago
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.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
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
KateUnger More than 1 year ago
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.
Rag_Doll More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully crafted; the characters will stay with you for a long, long time.
CRSK More than 1 year ago
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
Sobryan More than 1 year ago
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.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
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.
suekitty13 More than 1 year ago
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.
DoveArt More than 1 year ago
"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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thrilling story and characters that were relatable and interesting. I will definitely be reading Gin Phillips' other books.