Publisher: Viking Genre: Suspense/Thriller Release date: July 25th Pages: 288
It is almost closing time, and Joan and her 4-year-old son Lincoln are getting ready to head home after one of their regular visits to the local zoo, when Joan hears a sound in the distance that reminds her of fireworks.
As they near the zoo entrance, and it becomes clear that the sound wasn’t fireworks, Joan sets off a run with her son in her arms and her only thoughts focused on making a plan to keep him safe. She knows that she’s not going to be able to run for ever, and for the next 3 hours Joan does everything she can think of to stay one step ahead of the shooters. Faced with physical danger and moral dilemmas, will Joan be able to bring them out alive?
Fierce Kingdom takes place over a span of three tense hours, which was about the time it took me to read the book. Though I can’t say that I was hooked from the very first page, once I was hooked, I couldn’t put the book down. The need to know the outcome kept me turning pages even during the slow part in the middle.
For the majority of the story, we follow the stream of consciousness point-of-view of Joan, though the book also takes the perspective of a few of the other characters, including one of the shooters. Through this perspective we feel Joan’s fear and confusion as she tries to work through her limited knowledge, deals with the consequences of decisions she makes, and tries to keep her son quiet and occupied.
Joan’s 4-year-old son, Lincoln, was very well written, and Phillips depicts, what seems to me to be a realistic portrayal of how a small child would react to being thrust into this situation. Lincoln doesn’t stay quiet the entire time like his mother asks him to. He gets hungry and cranky and rebellious. He gets scared, and sometimes terrified, but he doesn’t spend the entire book in a state of terror. He trusts his mother and because of this, he has periods of relative calm.
Another strength of Fierce Kingdom was how Phillips tackles the question of survival vs morality. Joan is frequently faced with questions over how she should react in a given situation – does she help the people who have crossed into her path, or does she stay separate and think only of herself and Lincoln? The way she answers that question, and then deals with the consequences of those choices, is a big part of the story.
I’m not going to say too much on this final point, because it will stray quickly into spoilers, but I can’t review the book without mentioning my biggest criticism, which has to do with the ending. My criticism isn’t with how the story ended, as such, but rather the way the various story lines were resolved, or not resolved. For a book that hinged so much on making the reader want to know the outcome, the ending was frustrating to say the least.
Overall I enjoyed the story and found myself on the edge of my seat for the majority of the book, but Fierce Kingdom wasn’t a complete hit for me. If you are looking for a fast paced, fun, suspenseful read that tackles difficult questions of morality, paired with the survival instincts of a mother whose child is in danger, this book is an excellent choice.
I give this book 3.5 stars.
I received a copy of this book from Viking via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.