Published by Viking on July 25, 2017
Source: the publisher
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 8 hours, 3 minutes
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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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When I finished Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips, I actually felt my shoulders relax and drop. I’d been holding my breath while I was reading and was especially tense during the latter part of the story. This book was a quick-ish read for me, not only because of the length, but because I felt what was happening inside of that zoo down to my very bones. I kept imagining that it was me trapped inside of the zoo with my own child, making decisions that would either save us or end our lives, and I just had to know how the story would end.
As the story begins, Lincoln is in one of the more peaceful, less crowded areas of the zoo with his mother, Joan. It is about time to head toward the exit since the park will be closing for the day. As the two are wrapping up their play time, Joan hears some strange noises coming from another area of the park. (Were those gunshots, Joan wonders?) Joan’s fears are proven correct when she sees bodies strewn about and a gunman near the park exit. As fight-or-flight kicks in, she grabs her child and heads back into the park to find cover and wait out the situation. The next few hours for Joan are literally just STAY ALIVE SO I CAN KEEP LINCOLN ALIVE. As readers, we get to witness her thoughts and her actions as they occur.
I loved reading Joan’s thought processes, although some of them also horrified me: I loved watching her think critically about ways she might/might not be able to escape and how best to make it through this well-lit area or that uncovered walkway without drawing the attention of the gunmen. I loved watching her make decisions that she knew she probably would not otherwise make, and I loved watching her wrestle with her choices after the fact. I wondered if I would do the same things that Joan did.
It was terrifying, wondering what I would do in this particular situation. It was also terrifying to think that this situation is totally possible. The story is utterly compelling for these reasons. I never felt 100% connected to any of the characters, but I’m not sure that I was meant to connect with them in a story like this one. I think establishing that connection would have required page time that these characters just did not have, to be honest. This story moved so briskly; the characters were always in survival mode. And I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with the way that the story ended, which was quick and sort of abrupt-a little bit more open-ended than most of the stories that I read.
There were a couple of things with the plot that I didn’t completely fall in love with, like the inclusion of a few chapters from other characters’ POVs. There are only a few of these, and these POVs are brief, but they were just enough to take me out of the story a little bit and slow the pacing down until Joan’s perspective started back up again. On the other hand, I can see the value of these POVs because they allowed me to get a peek into the other characters’ thoughts and see their actions first-hand.
One other thing: there were two secondary characters that got some fairly significant page time but were just dropped from the narrative after a certain point. When I finished the book, I was left wondering what happened to these two people, and I still feel a little bit fidgety because I do not know if they made it out okay.
Even though I received a copy of Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips for review, I decided to add the audiobook from the library after I began reading so I could have longer periods of time with the story instead of putting the book down every time I needed to do some work around my house or cook or drive. I was very invested early on and I couldn’t stand the thought of putting down the story and waiting longer to find out what happened with Joan and Lincoln.
The Fierce Kingdom audiobook is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, and I always enjoy her narration. In this case, I think she did a great job voicing Joan all the way through the story. I think she did a particularly great job with Joan’s desperate, hurried thoughts and also with the many times that Joan was trying to talk patiently with Lincoln so as not to scare him, even though their very lives and safety were at risk.
In retrospect, the few chapters that were the POV-switches that I mentioned earlier might have been a little bit confusing to me if I had listened to the audiobook only without having my book nearby to reference who was speaking – this is just an observation. This is something easily remedied with backspacing and rewinding on the audio. I still recommend the audiobook to those considering a listen for this title. For me, it was most fun to have the audio on hand toward the end of the story, when the action in the book was heightened.