By Gin Phillips
Author’s website: www.ginphillips.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
“It tore at every maternal fiber in my body. I couldn’t put it down.” —Fiona Barton, New York Times bestselling author of The Widow
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?
Fierce Kingdom is a thriller so intense that it leaves a reader’s heart racing long after the final page is turned. Four people – a mother and her young son, a senior, and a teen – become members of an elite group none would have chosen. Kailynn, the teen, attempts to help the other three find a place of refuge from the madness the zoo has become.
Joan and her son Lincoln are frequent visitors at the zoo – so frequent that both she and the four year old are familiar with almost every trail and animal. They know what time to leave their favorite place, the Dinosaur Discovery Pit, to get to the main gate by closing time. Lincoln is an obedient boy, one who likes the safety of following rules. This becomes a day when the rules no longer count, not when their survival is on the line.
They hear sounds unlike the typical closing time. Loud popping noises are ahead of Joan and Lincoln as they walk towards the zoo exit. Barely sparing a glance at the Halloween decorations, Joan almost doesn’t see the carnage ahead until it finally registers that it is not decorations lying on the ground. Joan is forced, over the next hours, to make one snap decision after another to keep her beloved son safe until they escape the madness within.
While her son asks about the rules they are breaking, Joan at times carries and at times leads her son through moments of terror that only a mother could appreciate. Joan and Lincoln are very close, and time spent with him pays off now as it has kept her in tune with his thinking process. That level of intimate knowledge helps her know how to protect him even as her mind goes through options of where to hide.
At one point, she and Lincoln are invited into what was thought to be a secure storage closet, along with Margaret, a quiet, retired, lady, by Kailynn, a teen working in the restaurant. The brief moments of refuge were shattered by a greater danger. Having given up her only access to the outside world, Joan tries to hang on until the threat of destruction by three very young men could be vanquished by law enforcement.
The characters are two-dimensional at best, as we learn only what is required for each to get through the present crisis. In many ways, Lincoln sounds like an exceptional child with the ability to understand and retain vocabulary beyond his years. He is also willing to do as his mom tells him. Joan is the ultimate mother, willing to die to keep her child from harm. Margaret has a bad knee, walking according to her doctor’s orders while listening to her MP3 player. Kailynn, who has learned much about human nature from her father and is working to help her family. She has a kind heart, willing to help others survive. Robby, still a teen, is one of the “bad guys”, on their hunting spree. It seems like a grand adventure until he sees someone he knows, someone who remembers him and has seen good in him.
This fast-paced thriller is not something to read in small increments; the best experience is gained as one reads with as few breaks as possible until the end. While interesting, there seems to be something missing, perhaps due to Joan’s focus of getting her son out. I did want to see how the characters would get out of the situation but was disappointed overall. There was one notable plot twist in the complex business of survival.
At the end of the novel, we learn nothing about how each of the characters fared. I felt let down in a way, with too many loose ends about people I began to care about. This might be excellent for the adrenaline junkie whose thrill of continual action supersedes the need to know anything about the characters with the possible exception of the mother / child bond. When initially reading about Joan and Lincoln, then Kailynn, then Margaret, I had hoped to learn more about them as the novel progressed. One thing noted is that it is not only a mother’s heart that seeks the safety of her child, but the heart of another seeking the good of the group. I recommend this to those who appreciate well-written thrillers who appreciate the unique bond between mother and son, and the unique concern of one person for the group.