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Fierce Kingdom

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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?

288 pages, Hardcover

First published July 25, 2017

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About the author

Gin Phillips

7 books494 followers
Gin Phillips is the celebrated author of The Well and the Mine (winner of the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction) and Come in and Cover Me (“original and strikingly beautiful” – Elle Magazine). Her recent novel, Fierce Kingdom, was named one of the best books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, NPR, Amazon, and Kirkus Reviews. Her novels have been named as selections for Indie Next, Book of the Month, and the Junior Library Guild. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her family.

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5 stars
3,799 (16%)
4 stars
8,156 (36%)
3 stars
7,533 (33%)
2 stars
2,442 (10%)
1 star
694 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,570 reviews
Profile Image for Deanna .
664 reviews12.4k followers
January 14, 2018
My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpr...

2.5 Stars

I really struggling with a rating for this book. I think I landed on 2.5 because I was caught up in the story and had to know how it was going to end. However, I did have some issues with it.

When I read the description for Fierce Kingdom I was really looking forward to reading it. It sounded like it was going to be an intense read.

Joan is relaxing with her four-year-old son, Lincoln in one of their favorite areas of the zoo. She is listening to him chatter about Dr. Doom and Batman. It's near closing time and so they start to head for the exit....the next moment she hears what sounds like popping balloons or firecrackers. As she continues to head towards the exit she sees something that makes her turn around and run.

For the next three hours she must run, hide, and make some tough decisions to keep herself and her son safe.

When the book started off it was really intense. I can't imagine being in such a terrifying situation. Trying to keep yourself AND your child calm at a time like that would be extremely stressful. I kept trying to picture my zoo and tried to figure out where I would hide with my child.

Most of the story is told from the mother, Joan's point of view, but we also hear from other characters, including a teenager, Kailynn who works in the zoo's restaurant and a retired elementary schoolteacher, Margaret Powell. As the story progresses we learn quite a bit about Lincoln and the relationship between mother and son. We also hear about Kailynn's life and her relationship with her father. Margaret Powel isn't as developed but we still get a sense of her life as a school teacher and how she felt about her students.

As I mentioned the beginning of the book was extremely tense. I found midway that it started to drag a bit...but then it really picked up again towards the end.

I struggled with a few things ....

I also thought that there were a few things left unexplained. Some loose ends....

Although maybe the author wants readers to come to their own conclusions.

All that being said, not once did I think about not finishing the novel. Honestly, I was engrossed and had to know how this was going to turn out. I barely put it down. I read this book in about three sittings. I think that a lot of people will love this book, but some of it just wasn't for me.

Something that really bothered me:

Many thanks to Random House Canada for providing a copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Miriam Smith (A Mother’s Musings).
1,521 reviews156 followers
July 7, 2017
When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved 4 year old son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs – even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong!
As a mother myself, I couldn't imagine the horror of trying to protect my children from gunmen trapped in a zoo and it was this frightening thought that kept the storyline going for me as I needed to see how the ordeal ended. Once more characters were introduced the story started to take more shape - I did find Joan a little frustrating at times, but who knows how you'd cope in a terrifying situation like the one she and her son found themselves in.
I found the first half of the book a little too slow for my liking, although it did pick up in the second half and by the end I had enjoyed reading it. It's definitely a book in my opinion more about the protective bond between a mother and son rather than a fast paced thriller so I imagine unless you actually have a child I'm not sure you'd be drawn to this book as much.
It wasn't a book that would keep me past my bedtime though still worth a read, it's well written, very descriptive and I imagine will do well. If you like your thrillers to be slow burning, tense with an unusual setting and premise then "Fierce Kingdom" by Gin Phillips is the book for you.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
June 10, 2017
3.5 They spent many happy days at the zoo, Joan and her 4 year old son, he playing with the action figures he lived. The playground at the zoo, and the zoo itself were wonderful places to mother and son, until the day that changed. The day, when after the announcement that the zoo was closing, and they hurried to the exit, Joan saw bodies and saw a man with a gun. Now her only thought is to keep her son safe.

What I liked: the novel set in actual time, the times posted at the beginning of each segment, the restraint the author showed in describing the carnage of animals and people, the timeliness of this story, when shootings of this type in public places are something we all fear, and the abiding love between mother and son.

What I liked less: the flow of the novel was inconsistent, a little too slow in parts, especially the first half, and a few plot points left me with a niggling doubt.
Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews524 followers
June 13, 2017
Here it is evening already.  Evening!,  and I haven’t even thought about the dirty dishes or unmade bed, never mind dinner.
I have been in the Zoo with Joan and her precocious four year old son Lincoln.   They are hiding in the porcupine enclosure.  In the primate zone.
There are armed gunmen out there in the zoo who are killing people.
They are hidden from view but must remain very quiet.  She must keep Lincoln calm and engaged, hushed and still.   Calm and engaged.  Not shot.  Not dead.  Focus!
Just how far would you go to protect your child?

Want to punch out for a while?
Come on in.
Four adrenaline fueled escape stars
My thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, Gin Phillips and NetGalley for an opportunity to read this book.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,740 reviews2,268 followers
August 2, 2017

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.

When my oldest son was little, we lived not too far from a small Warner Bros. owned theme park, where a friend of ours worked as one of those mascots who dress up in costumes, sweltering in the heat. Since we could go for free, courtesy of our friend, and since my son was young then, and it was mostly wooded and cooler than our home, we went often. The attraction was supposed to be the animals, but they were supposed to be in a wild natural habitat, not caged, so the only way to see them was to drive through – which might have been worthwhile, but suffocating in a car without A/C. Apparently there were enough people not dissuaded by the voice telling you repeatedly of the dangers involved in rolling down your windows, since there were frequent enough deaths, and you heard about all of them if you lived close enough. More, if you had a friend who worked there. Local folklore says the animals were all set free, and that those who live in that area still see some of those lions and tigers and bears! Oh my, indeed.

This was where my mind kept returning as this story progressed, picturing my much younger self with my then young son, trying to find places to stay safe, trying to keep him placated enough to keep him from crying or talking too loud or getting angry at the unfairness of it all. Dealing with hunger. Questions.

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.

This is not my usual fare, I’m always leery of reading suspense books because I don’t like feeling this knot in my stomach, but lately the few I’ve read have not touched on a topic that is so timely, and one that I could imagine, knowing every day when the news comes on, that these types of actions seems to occur more frequently. Why, I will never understand.

This is intense, although there are parts where the tension does let up for a bit and then returns, kind of like the movement of a hammer being raised just to strike once again, overall, the feeling is just intense.

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.

Published: 25 Jul 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Penguin Group / Viking
Profile Image for Linda.
1,226 reviews1,275 followers
July 14, 2017
The ol' Animal Kingdom.

Some species walking on all fours in cages. Some species walking on two and needing desperately to be caged.

Gin Phillips creates a familiar environment known to the majority of us: spreading landscapes of various attractive foliage surrounding outdoor and indoor exhibits; animals from the colossal in size to the very miniscule harbored in settings of man-made imaginings. The viewers and the viewed.

A shady enclosure in the woods at the edge of the zoo is the ideal place for mother and child to relax and enjoy each other's presence. Joan and four year old Lincoln perch in this comforting place of restorative bliss. They are regular visitors here and trek the usual walkways each week. Lincoln plays with his plastic "dudes" and jabbers away. Joan keeps an eye on the time as the zoo will be closing momentarily for the day.

An unexpected explosive sound rings out in the area. Horrified, Joan recognizes it as gunfire. Trying not to frighten her young one, Joan grabs him up in her arms and tries to make it to the only exit at the front of the zoo. Since it is closing time, the number of visitors are few. And what Joan and Lincoln come upon on the sidewalks is shocking.

Mother and child feel the rivoting bolt of pure fear as they scramble for a place to hide. Panic sends them climbing into rock-walled exhibits. Ironically, humans don't seem to possess the camouflage needed to blend in. Joan knows that these human predators, armed with weapons, now take presidence over the scattering underlings in deadly turmoil.

Philips proceeds with countless nerve wracking scenarios throughout her story in which Joan must make snap decisions that will favor the survival of Lincoln and herself. Now here is where there will be deep discussions by the readers. Here is where reviewers have ratcheted down on the stars. Here is where Joan pitches her cell phone far into the brush in a diversion tactic that, may or may not, work against these predators.

Yep, I get it loud and clear. Plenty of faulty decisions, plenty of characters that have flimsy cardboard innards, and plenty of fault with the police take-down. Plenty of "if I were in that zoo I would have......."

But our main character doesn't seem to possess our gladiator survival skills, folks. She does it her way. And for that very reason, you will be locked into the story to the very end. Gin Phillips sends your imagination into overdrive regardless of what your Navy Seal attributes tell you. You've just got to know how this story spills out, rooting for Joan or pulling your hair out in clumps. A fast, page-turning read that will light you up one way or another.

I received a copy of Fierce Kingdom through Giveaways on Goodreads. My appreciation to Viking Books and to Gin Phillips for the opportunity.

Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
612 reviews19.4k followers
February 14, 2018
This is a suspenseful novel that takes place entirely during a few hours of fear in the zoo. 

The story is told from different points of view but the more prominent character we spend time with is the mother of a four-year old child. The novel was thrilling and well-written but I was disappointed by the ending.

Initially, I resisted reading the novel because the cover reminds me of a circus and circuses have always creeped me out. I'm not referring to the Cirque-Du-Soleil type of circus, I'm referring to the ones that traveled around with animals and force them to perform. In my childhood memories those poor animals always looked sad and underfed. 

Overall, I enjoyed the novel but would have liked it more if the ending would have been different. Still, I recommend this book to readers of thrillers and contemporary fiction.

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,820 followers
February 26, 2020
No matter how this book described the zoo where this entire story took place, I could not stop picturing my local zoo. I am not sure if I have ever read a book where a location was so automatically ingrained in how I picture something. The author could have said the zoo was on top of a mountain, but I still would have pictured our flat-land zoo here in Indianapolis.

But I digress . . .

Fierce Kingdom, even though I took my time reading it, was a pretty quick read. In fact, the book practically takes place in real time – i.e. if you sat down to read it straight through, it might take 4 or 5 hours and the course of the story is over just a few hours. This, plus the entire story taking place inside a zoo, created a very unique setting and feel to the story. These were the best two things about the book for me.

However . . .

I am not sure that any of what I mentioned above was used enough to really heighten the intensity or uniqueness of the story. Since the decision was made for it to be in a zoo, you would think the zoo would serve as another character – i.e. the fact that it is in a zoo becomes extremely integral to key scenes in the story. But the zoo never really matters to the story. It could have taken place anywhere – the author just happened to place it in the zoo. There is occasionally a dead animal, and even a groundhog on the loose (which we have in this area outside of the zoo anyway). Where were the showdowns in the lion’s den or the stampeding elephants on the loose? I think a major opportunity was missed here.

Another thing that I did not feel happened was the perfect fleshing out of the story. And, with the very quick time frame, the plot should have been presented in a very intense, edge of your seat sort of way. Instead, most of the action and intensity is happening far away from where the story is taking place. And, once you find out what is happening, it is all kind of weird – cannot say much more without spoilers. I think if they had either revealed everything or just kept it all mysterious, it would have been better than the partial revelations you end up getting.

In summary – I enjoyed it and it is okay far a quick read, but I would not say that it is mind-blowingly recommendable!
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,432 reviews811 followers
June 23, 2017
Kind of Hunger Games in the zoo. Mother and four-year-old son are at the end of a tiring day after one of their regular visits to the zoo. Lincoln seems to be a bright, somewhat different little boy who’s quite clingy, but then again, Joan is pretty clingy herself. As they’re on their way out, she hears pops and cracks – fireworks? But we're aware of what we’re reading, so we know better.

She’s on her way to the exit when she spots some bodies on the ground, so she spins around and backtracks, desperately searching for a way out or a safe place to hide. She sees what she thinks are men with guns, but she doesn’t see any people. They visit the zoo often, so she knows the layout and which enclosures might be empty or not have dangerous animals.

Lincoln begins to complain that he’s hungry, and she has to keep reminding him to be quiet – needing to scare him without terrifying him. By this time, she's overheard men laughing about blasting people and animals to smithereens.

”‘Shhhh,’ she says. ‘You have to be quiet.’ ‘O‑kay‑y,’ he says, in many syllables, more moan than word. She scans the darkness. He is too loud too loud too loud. She is running her hand over his head, pulling him closer to her, shushing and stroking, and none of it is working. She does not know how to buy more time. He cannot make noise.”

As they sit in hiding, she keeps reminiscing about his babyhood and how much she adores him. This mother and child are a single unit:

” With a lover you might have a perfect comfort with each other’s body, a sense that his body belongs to you and yours to him, and you might have total unselfconscious freedom to put a hand on his thigh, to put your mouth on his in the way you know he likes best, for him to curl around you in bed, pelvis to pelvis – but the two of you are still, ultimately, two different bodies, and the pleasure comes from the difference. With Lincoln, the line between their two selves is blurred. She bathes him and wipes off every bodily fluid, and he sticks his fingers in her mouth or catches his balance with a hand on the top of her head. He catalogues her freckles and moles as carefully as he keeps track of his own scrapes and bruises. He does not quite know that he is a being apart from her. Not yet. For now, her arm is as accessible as his arm – her limbs are equally his limbs. They are interchangeable.”

This reminds me of the mother and son in Room, except those two were completely isolated, which made their relationship understandable. In this story, I understand that she’s frightened she might lose her precious little boy, but there was too much of this for me. It felt like daydreaming rather than fear.

The point of view sometimes changed unexpectedly from Joan to a killer or to another potential victim, which I also didn’t care for. Different sections are introduced with the time of day, but the changed point of view didn’t coincide with this. Perhaps the finished version is better.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted, so quotes may have changed in the final copy. I expect there will be some thriller fans who will enjoy this more than I did.
Profile Image for Brandice.
855 reviews
September 25, 2018
I’d been looking forward to reading Fierce Kingdom since it first came out a few years ago, as the premise of this suspense story intrigued me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. The story takes place over one evening, where Joan and her 4 year old son, Lincoln, get trapped in a zoo, when a group of gunmen enter in the early evening as the zoo is about to close.

I read this book in two sittings and enjoyed the first sitting (approximately one half of the book) more than the second, but I think even if I’d read it straight through at once, the story begins to fall around the halfway point. The buildup is intriguing but the descent starts to drag, and for me, it failed to build back up again. The suspense faded and I just wanted to know how things ended, but didn’t enjoy the rest of the journey in getting there. The focus seemed to be on Joan and Lincoln’s relationship more so than the adrenaline filled terror of what to do in such a nightmare situation. A few of Joan’s decisions also seemed dumb to me although I acknowledge, we never know how we’ll truly act in high pressure, terror-filled situations until we’re facing them ourselves.

I also couldn’t find much interest in the supporting characters and their brief side stories. The ending, while ok, was slightly vague (though this didn’t bother me too much in this instance), and despite the drag to get there, ended abruptly.

I’m glad I finally read Fierce Kingdom but also glad I read it as an ebook deal, and didn’t buy it when it was first released. It just didn’t hold up that well for me given the potential with the realistic premise.
Profile Image for Zoe.
1,818 reviews170 followers
July 4, 2017
Gripping, intense, and downright eerie!

This is an adrenaline-filled thriller that brings a mother’s worst nightmare to life and explores the anxiety and terror involved in protecting one’s child.

The characters are a mix of protective, determined and strong, and young, callous and ruthless. The writing is compelling and sharp. And the plot, which is told in real-time over a period of three hours is bursting with tension, angst, violence, fear, panic, instinct, and survival.

I have to say that overall this is an insightful, harrowing novel and even though I would have liked some of the subplots to be wrapped up just a little bit more it definitely kept me on tenterhooks from start to finish.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

All my reviews can be found on my blog at http://whatsbetterthanbooks.com
Profile Image for Blaine.
747 reviews604 followers
August 3, 2022
Fierce Kingdom is an interesting “what would I do if” story, where the if is “I’m at the zoo with my 4-year-old when an active shooter situation begins.” The story is told in real time, and maintains its sense of urgency throughout. The initial portrayal of the relationship between the mom, Joan, and her son, Lincoln, is touching and reminded me of different pieces of my own kids’ behaviors at that age. The writing is strong, and propels the reader through the story.

Fierce Kingdom has some flaws, though. It either needed more sections from the other characters’ perspectives or none. Because so few sections were not from Joan’s perspective, those sections felt like a sort of drag on the story. This is especially true for the handful of chapters from the shooter’s perspective. Further, as noted by many other reviewers, at least two characters’ fates (three if you think it’s ambiguous whether Joan survived) are left unsatisfyingly unresolved.

But despite its flaws, I still enjoyed Fierce Kingdom. It’s an absorbing book, and one worth reading.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews990 followers
April 13, 2017
Wow Fierce Kingdom is like a rocket launched right at you - beautifully written, highly tense, this is without doubt a one sitting read (I rattled through it last night) and it is so utterly gripping I was slightly dazed when I came back out of it.

This works on many levels - first of all as a thriller, with our protagonists trapped in a Zoo not knowing when salvation might come - and then as a really emotive relationship drama that shows the maternal bond in all its glory - how far would you go to protect your child? Far of course is the answer and Joan is going to prove it.

Fierce Kingdom is full of layers - mostly we follow Joan and her child but with occasional insight from others trapped within the confines of the Zoo and from a man wielding a gun the wider picture gets painted in very hauntingly. I found myself clutching my hair at times and Gin Phillips just builds the pressure until BOOM the finale is brilliantly placed and emotionally resonant.

Overall I loved this. It is not a long book but it is hard hitting, emotionally traumatic and extraordinarily compelling.


Profile Image for Beverly.
805 reviews291 followers
January 22, 2018
A quick read, this novel, explores what a mother will do to protect her child. Meant to be a fun day at their favorite spot, the zoo, 4 year old Lincoln and his Mom, Joan, stumble upon horror. Protecting him through this nightmare is her only thought.
June 11, 2017
A brilliant premise which immediately gets readers hearts racing and beads of sweat forming, Fierce Kingdom tells the nail-biting story of Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, trapped inside Belleville Zoo with a gunman on the loose. Whiling away the hours until closing time, Joan and Lincoln are in The Dinosaur Discovery Pit, a woodland sanctuary away from the more popular zoo attractions that compete for attention. Drifting away, with her mind half on Lincoln's superhero chatter and half working it's way through the chores of everyday life, Joan thinks she hears a salvo of gunfire. Most realistically she tell herself it is balloons bursting, fireworks exploding, a transformer blowing or simply construction within the zoo. Unperturbed Lincoln remains in his own imaginary world and when there is no follow up of screaming, sirens or tannoy announcements, Joan ascribes her heightened awareness of terrorist activity as having fuelled her overactive imagination. Shepherding Lincoln towards the main park entrance in order to reach the gates by closing time Joan witnesses the unthinkable; an armed gunman with his back towards her and a rifle primed... and she realises that the gunfire she thought she heard was in fact a reality.

Lincoln is a smart, imaginative, sensitive and obedient boy who follows the rules, has his own idiosyncrasies and like most children, is highly inquisitive. He is a child that requires reasons and explanations to happily go along with his mother's wishes but Joan tells him that for once this is a situation where they can disregard the rules and take a break from the usual boundaries. Scooping him up and with his forty-pounds feeling like a dead weight smashing into her hip bone, Joan flees and eventually finds a hideout in the porcupine enclosure, which is temporarily exhibit free. Wedging her body against a rock and hidden in the darkness she attempts to keep Lincoln content, engaged, quiet and oblivious to his increasing hunger pains. Texting husband, Paul, she is informed of a gunman prowling inside the zoo, but when she hears the perpetrators (Robby and Mark) shooting the breeze and quoting action movie dialogue as they pass right beside her and Lincoln's hideout she can no longer shield her boy from the brutal horror of the situation.

4:55 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. stuck in the zoo, it should have been tense, emotive and poignant but for me, concentrating so closely on the mother son relationship and Lincoln's habits and behaviour made this a tedious slog. Although Phillips does give a voice to the gunmen, it is far too sketchy to ever begin to understand the motivation behind their actions. A wordy narrative detracts from any building sense of tension as readers are enclosed in a bubble of Joan and Lincoln and I felt that the focus was more on pacifying Lincoln and accommodating her habits, rather than an the life or death situation unfolding. Lincoln sobbing, chatting loudly, whining for food or wanting the bathroom is all very much of a muchness and each episode felt very interchangeable with the next. Joan also finds time to launch into an internal discourse which lapses into childhood memories, her relationship with her own mother and to wax lyrical of the delights of an CBS TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs King, which as a British reader without any knowledge of this show left me a little mystified. At first I was unsure if Fierce Kingdom proved a struggle as I am not a mother and have zero maternal instincts, however I appreciated many of the subtle observations on the close bond between Joan and Lincoln and Joan's unerring patience. Admittedly when sixteen-year-old zoo restaurant worker, Kailynn and retired sixty-four-year-old elementary schoolteacher, Margaret Powell, both fellow captives, are given a voice my interest picked up but their contribution is woefully cut short by the continual need to return the focus on Joan and her son. There is no doubt that for Gin Phillips this story does not go beyond exploring just what a mother will do for her child.

I encountered numerous holes in the plot and found myself trying to bat away questions about some of Joan's decision making, albeit under stress. Why oh why would she willingly part with a mobile that is keeping her in contact with the outside world? Prior to this she is texting back and forth with her husband, Paul, when I would have been be sending a SOS and crying for a SWAT team to hone in on my GPS coordinates! Given that some areas of the zoo had speakers blaring out music which made conversation impossible, why did Joan not head towards those areas as a cover for any noise from Lincoln? Admittedly rational logic might go out of the window but seeing a Joan found time to ruminate on an 80's TV show her lack of focus on exiting post haste baffled me.

A complete aside but is anyone else fascinated by Margaret Powell's thirty-six year teaching career that has seen four murders, six rapists and nine armed robbers amongst her former students?! Some track record.

I won my copy of Fierce Kingdom in a Goodreads giveaway.
Profile Image for Wendy.
1,634 reviews557 followers
September 29, 2017
A grippingly fierce and emotional story about a mother and her young child on a perilous adventure.
Joan and her 4 year old son Lincoln are on one of their frequent visits to the zoo. Right before closing they hurry toward the exit until they are stopped in their tracks when they hear and see something horrible. Someone at the zoo has opened fire.
What follows is a suspenseful three hours of running, hiding and doing everything possible to escape becoming victims themselves.
A thrilling, rollercoaster ride that is every parents worst nightmare.
An extremely well-written and captivating read!
Profile Image for Dennis.
774 reviews1,471 followers
October 19, 2017
Disclaimer: This is probably the hardest review that I've submitted since I activated my Goodreads account.

3 stars
The story takes place in real-time, with the plot unfolding within two or so hours, at a zoo featuring Joan and her 4 year old son Lincoln. Joan and her son are about to wrap up their trip to the zoo when something has gone drastically wrong, sending her to hide with her son and plan for a means of escaping. Fierce Kingdom engages the audience by exploiting the love that a parent has for his or her children, and harnesses that emotion to build a foundation for the story's plot. Fierce Kingdom is relatable in a sense that it plays upon people's natural instinct to survive. Joan must protect her son and escape the zoo by whatever means necessary.

I had trouble thoroughly enjoying the plot and there were several things that just didn't make sense to me. My first grievance was that Lincoln was portrayed as an unbelievably smart and social inept four year old. At four years old, Lincoln was more intellectually connected to what was happening than any four year old that I've ever met. It came off as more frustrating than believable to me. My second grievance was the marketing behind Fierce Kingdom . The book is not really a thriller or suspenseful but rather more of a drama in my opinion. I just felt that the book kind of lulled as I was expecting a twist, or something/someone to drastically change the plot, but really Fierce Kingdom primarily focused the story on Joan and her relationship with her son. It's not to say that I didn't enjoy the way the story unfolded, but it wasn't exactly a story that would keep me guessing.

I just think certain books aren't meant for everyone, but I do think that if you read the synopsis and are interested then you should definitely give it a chance. I gave my mom my copy of the book and I think that she will enjoy it much more than me.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,955 reviews485 followers
January 27, 2018
This is one of those reviews where I am relieved I waited until morning to write my reactions. I was completely engrossed in this highly dramatic situation where a mother and her 4 year old son have to hide from three gunmen who have taken over a zoo. Gin Phillips just kept me turning the pages and all I had wanted to read was a chapter before bed.

BUT as page turning as the story was, it suffers from lingering effects of unresolved issues. In the beginning, it's a mother protecting her son and there are so many times I thought they were going to get caught. Then other characters crop up-a sixteen year canteen worker and a retired teacher. Then they all came together and I felt the change a bit jarring. We also have a few chapters detailing the plans and thoughts of the shooters. I don't want to spoil anything for future readers, but I still have a whole whack of "I need to know why"

Therefore, my review ends up safely as a 3 star review.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,727 reviews6,662 followers
July 28, 2017
"She is trying to work herself back into the right mood to talk to him—quiet, as quiet as possible—to make everything normal and alright. A considerable part of parenting is pretending moods that you do not entirely feel. She has thought this before when she’s listening to little plastic people act out a battle scene for hours at a time, but now it seems like maybe all those eternal battles were a good thing—maybe they were practice. She is good at pretending. She will start doing it again any moment now."
The premise of this book is terrifying. The thought of this happening would scare the pants off of anyone who knows what it is like to have a young child under their protection whether as a parent, sibling, extended family, babysitter, teacher, etc. To be in an epic game of hide-and-seek where life and death may very well hinge on the tiniest of noises or movements...and you have a four year old with you. A four year old who although obedient, still acts in an age-appropriate manner when it comes to announcing their needs, fears, and questions. And you have to pretend everything is going to be OK, so it doesn't result in a tired, hungry meltdown that will surely end very badly. OMG.

Overall, Fierce Kingdom was an incredibly engaging read. I had some mild distraction though when it came to a few POV shifts that took me out of thriller/suspense mode. It was interesting to meet some of the other characters a bit more in depth but with minimal closure to any of their stories, I'm not certain the added POV's (for the exception of the villain) were incredibly necessary. I would recommend this book for fans of realistic thriller/suspense, but because of the day and age we live I feel the following trigger warnings may be necessary: . Check it out!

Thank you to the following for permitting me access to an advance reader's copy (ARC) of Fierce Kingdom. This generosity did not impact my honesty when rating/reviewing.
Author: Gin Phillips
Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP Viking
Genres: Mystery & Thrillers, Women's Fiction
Pub Date: 25 Jul 2017
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,498 followers
August 23, 2017
Joan and her 4 year old son, Lincoln, are at the zoo nearing closing time when Joan realizes she's living every parent's nightmare: shooters are on the prowl in the zoo.

Joan scoops up Lincoln and gives in to her first impulse: run. Eventually she can’t continue and must find shelter and hide. As she hears the gunmen closing in she uses her ingenuity to find shelter in varying spots. As a mother, I physically felt Joan’s terror, my muscles tensed, and I found myself holding my breath until I knew they were safe again. Along the way, she meets other zoo visitors who create complications and/or moral dilemmas for Joan.

Although Lincoln is precocious, he’s also a typical 4 year old. He gets hungry, he has to use the bathroom, he forgets to whisper, all the things that can draw the attention of the shooters. And speaking of precocious, are there really 4 year olds who have his vocabulary and reasoning skills? I admit as my eyes were rolling and I was thinking “this doesn’t sound like any 4 year old I’ve ever known”, my heart was melting at how sweet and precious he was. He stole my heart in ways that perhaps a normal fictional 4 year old wouldn’t, so I understand why the author created him this way.

Joan’s instinct to protect her son was pure animal instinct and I felt for her as she had to make some heartbreaking choices. It made me think about what I would do to protect my own. How far would I go? And that’s what sets this apart from so many disaster/terror books that have come before it. As a mother and grandmother, I could put myself in Joan's shoes. Rarely are moral dilemmas a simple case of black and white.

One complaint is the narrative was interrupted by the backstory of not only Joan, but of several secondary characters. As my heart was pounding, I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough and it was jarring to be pulled out of the story into the past. I didn’t care. I only cared about the now so I found myself skimming to get back to the present situation at the zoo.

I also would have preferred to get closure on a few loose threads . And then there’s the matter of the cell phone. I wanted to reach through the pages and slap her for her stupidity. But despite these few quibbles I found the book to be a riveting page-turner that I devoured in one sitting. For pure enjoyment in a book I couldn't put down, this one gets a solid 4 stars from me.

** thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Group Viking for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Sam (Clues and Reviews).
684 reviews159 followers
July 23, 2017
I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips, for MONTHS; I had read multiple posts during the blog tour for the UK release and it shot right up to the top of STAFF PICKS at Chapters-Indigo upon its release in Canada, but since the US released it later on in July and I was reading it with Jessica and Chandra for one of our July #cjsreads picks, I held off for as long as possible! Now that I have read the title, I feel as if the hype is justified but feel like this book absolutely left me wanting more.

Let me break it down.

The novel opens with a mother (Joan) and her young son (Lincoln) enjoying an afternoon at the zoo. Lincoln is talking a mile a minute, Joan is making lists in her head and as they head out of the zoo for the evening, Joan hears a popping sound. Something is absolutely wrong and this is made clear when Joan sees the bodies. There is a shooter in the zoo and the shooter is not just hunting the animals. Scooping up Lincoln and running, Joan must try and protect him from the evil that lurks.

The general premise was absolutely gripping; I was hooked from the first pages of the book. What a different setting for a thriller! I felt like the zoo backdrop added an extra layer of unpredictability as our protagonist had to not only worry about the human danger but also the danger that comes from nature. Phillips also does an excellent job at making her characters realistic and relatable. I was genuinely concerned for their plights and found myself continuously asking myself what I would do in such a situation. I also felt like Phillips did an amazing job at developing her secondary characters.

Now, my struggle with the book is hard to discuss without giving any spoilers but I did have quite an issue with an aspect involving a baby. I felt like I didn’t get any resolution and I felt quite a bit of anxiety surrounding this small bit of plot. I also struggled a lot with the ending. Again, hard to explain without providing spoilers but it really didn’t leave me satisfied.

Overall, I felt like Fierce Kingdom was a stellar piece of fiction and would recommend it to anyone looking for something fast paced and engaging. Gave it 4/5 stars!
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews182 followers
September 16, 2018
Sounds drift from the entrance of the zoo - 'Two cracks, then several more. Pops, like balloons bursting' and so begins the nightmare for Joan and her four year old son Lincoln. They are trapped in the familiar surroundings of their local wildlife park as an 'active shooter' incident unfolds.
Fierce by Gin Phillips is an unusual thriller in that the timeline develops at roughly the same speed that you read the book. The whole story spans only a few hours.
A minute by minute account of the experiences of Joan and Lincoln ensue. The action is gripping but unsensational and feels true to life.
The realistic feel of the book is effective but also works against the narrative drive. The long periods when Joan and Lincoln are hiding are used by the author to examine their relationship, family life and backstory. These sections are well written and the relationship between Joan and Lincoln is touching (rather than cloying), but did stall the book's momentum. All thrillers need periods of reflection but there just seemed to be too much calm before the storm. I constantly wanted to get back to the tense, developing story.
Overall, Fierce features well drawn characters, skilful writing and is exciting, even if it is a little slow in places.
Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
409 reviews110 followers
January 15, 2019
Βραδυφλεγές, αγωνιώδες μέχρις ενός σημείου, αλλά ως σύνολο αποδείχτηκε μάλλον ανέμπνευστο. Το δίχως άλλο, δικαίωσε τις περιορισμένες μου προσδοκίες (2,5/5).
Profile Image for Kyle.
375 reviews554 followers
August 29, 2017
Actual rating: 1.5

Let me start by saying that I was intrigued by this novel the moment I read the blurb for the dust jacket a few months ago. Truth be told, I thought the book was about something completely different before going into it-- I honestly thought it concerned a mother and her young son trapped in a zoo after hours with a lion on the loose (or something along those lines). Obviously, that's way off. What the plot actually turned out to be wasn't necessarily a letdown, but I was disappointed that my theory was wrong (admittedly, I don't know how I got that original idea in my head from reading just the synopsis).
*I'll keep the spoilers appropriately tagged to preserve any kind of surprise for future readers, although it will be hard to do while I tear this book apart.*

I was expecting a Cujo-style thriller, but ended up with a different beast... and one that wound up being exceptionally boring.

As soon as I realized this was to be a book about I was a bit turned off, but gave it a shot (no pun intended) anyways. We follow Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, as they hide themselves away, and make irrational, unrealistic decisions for the remainder of the novel. I'd like to say here that Ms. Phillips made some inflammatory comments at the start; Joan's first line of thought once she understands what's going on is . I was rooting for Joan even after these comments. I wanted to like her, but then there came the whole deal with tossing her phone away to get rid of the light, countless times calling/texting her husband instead of the police, leaving the safety of her sanctuary after only like, an hour and a half to find a vending machine, because her son can't go three hours without a snack.

It was really too much for me to suspend my belief that any rational person would act this way. Then there is the instance of the . So many loose ends. So many plot holes.

One of the major issues with this book is that it focuses too closely on Joan and Lincoln. Their dynamics are about as interesting as a wet cardboard box, and most of it had no bearing on the actual situation at hand. By the time Kailynn and Margaret came into the picture, my annoyance was eased a tad, but focus only shifts to their perspectives briefly, and then we're back to Joan's. And from there, Joan slowly starts acting like a bitch! She is judgmental of Kailynn talking, of Margaret's religion, she eventually seals their fates, too, by being a total moron.

Lastly, I just have to publicly decry the countless instances of animal abuse, and downright senseless animal murder, in this novel. It serves no purpose setting this shit in a zoo. Really. Ms. Phillips saw a gimmick-y setting and ran with it. And you know what, from my perspective, failed miserably. If more attention was paid to characterization (and not just unnecessary and pointless backstories), plotting (taking time to fill in details and avoid all the holes in the plot itself), and tying up multiple loose ends, then maybe I'd have given this a higher score. In the end, Fierce Kingdom ends quite abruptly, and quite unremarkably.
Profile Image for Brooke.
276 reviews137 followers
July 3, 2017
*I received an ARC from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest & unbiased review. Many thanks to Viking Books, Random House & Gin Phillips for the opportunity.*

I'll admit I struggled with this one. The premise is fascinating - examining the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her son when a group of shooters enter the local zoo. What ensues is a 3 hour duration of sheer panic as Joan must figure out how to keep her & her son, Lincoln, alive. Told in alternating chapters of time points as well as shedding light on some of the other key players, FIERCE KINGDOM should have been a pulse-racing thriller, leaving the reader breathless as they scramble to make it to the last page to discover the outcome. This was not the case for me. I did not have the nail-biting experience of desperation and hesitation of seeing what would become of Joan. I didn't really care about any of the characters nor was I satisfied with the loose ending after all of that buildup of Joan attempting to outsmart the gunmen. Phillips' prose was agreeable enough that I would consider reading another one of her books in the future.

Without going into too much detail, there were a few points of unrealistic actions on Joan's part, where I had to suspend all disbelief in order to continue the story. While Joan is hiding with Lincoln in an exhibit, she has her phone & receives texts from her husband but not once does she think about calling the police? Huh? And then afterwards what she chooses to do with her phone certainly felt like a ditzy move. It's difficult to be wrapped up in a story where the MC makes illogical decisions. I also never felt like I had a real connection to Joan as her character felt one-dimensional; her only goal was to save Lincoln. The identity of the character is tied to this & I would have liked to see another side to her, more individual instead of maternal, but perhaps that's just me.

The chapters involving some other characters- including the gunmen, Margaret (a retired third-grade school teacher) & Kailynn (a sixteen-year-old who works in the zoo's restaurant) felt out of place & took away from the natural pace of the story. I would have liked to see them intertwined better so they could have flowed easier with Joan's narrative. Some of Lincoln's dialogue seemed a bit unrealistic for a four-year-old, but it makes for an easier digestible story. I would have liked to learn more about Margaret & Kailynn, especially what happens to Margaret, but Phillips chooses to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.

For a mere 274 pages it definitely felt like I was reading a 500+ page book, perhaps because I set this down multiple times & didn't feel the necessity to devour the entire thing at once, as I like my thrillers to be. Overall FIERCE KINGDOM is a novel that had a promising premise, but failed upon execution. FIERCE KINGDOM is a read that will probably appeal to a lot of individuals, especially mothers of young children, but as I'm not in that category & I honestly never felt the intensity or related to Joan from the get-go, this just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Purple Country Girl (Sandy).
150 reviews23 followers
October 24, 2017
Thank you to Netgalley for providing a copy of Fierce Kingdom in exchange for an honest review.

I was on the fence about picking up Fierce Kingdom due to the mixed reviews but I finally decided to give it a try. I really wanted to like this one but, for a book that comes in under 300 pages, it felt much, much longer. I thought it would be a fast-paced, suspenseful read about a mother and son trapped in an active shooter situation. I got the last part right but it was not fast-paced nor was it overly suspenseful. I think spending so much time on the mother-child bond did the book in for me.

Joan and her four year old son, Lincoln, are slowly making their way to the exit as the zoo they are visiting is about to close. Before they reach their destination, Joan hears popping noises which she attributes to some type of machinery - until she sees bodies on the ground. Joan knows then that the sounds are gunfire. She leads Lincoln back into the zoo and away from the horror. As they make their way through the exhibits in search of a safe place to hide, Joan is terrified that the shooter (or shooters) are watching them. During this time, the book sizzles with tension and it’s hard to put down. Joan settles on hiding in the empty porcupine exhibit and tries to explain what is happening to Lincoln. After making contact with her husband and telling him where they are, the book starts to slow down. Sadly, what follows is page after page of a sometimes cloying mother-child relationship where Lincoln goes from super intelligent and quiet to whiny and loud, despite Joan instructing him to whisper.

When Kailynn, a teenager who works at the zoo, and Margaret, a retired schoolteacher, are introduced and given perspectives, it is a relief to have other voices to relate the unfolding events. Unfortunately, each is given a brief passage before the story returns to Joan where many pages go by full of more mother-son moments. I think too much is told from Joan’s POV and that limits the focus and tension of the book. I didn’t realize that so much of the story would take a backseat to the mother-child bond. This book is not a true thriller, it is more of a drama with a few thrilling moments.

I really did not care for Joan. She does some questionable things in the book, some seem to defy logic, the most absurd of which is running to a vending machine while someone is prowling the grounds with a gun? Really? There are more instances but I don’t want to spoil later events. I found a lot of her inner thoughts annoying and unnecessary. I just found her unlikeable and unrelatable in general. I think Kailynn or even Margaret would have been better vessels to tell this story but Joan is needed to pursue the mother-child bond.

I also don’t understand why this had to be set in a zoo. Why not a park or museum? Whether or not it was the intention, I’m left with the feeling that the author wanted to add shock-value by having animals slaughtered as well. I guess I was naive to think this wouldn’t be the case.

In the end, I think this one boils down to personal taste. If you don’t mind a deep exploration of a mother-child relationship and are okay with the action being on the back burner, I’d say pick this one up. If you read the description and think this is going to be a thrill a minute, I’d say you might want to pass on this one or adjust your expectations. Maybe it’s because my children are all furry quadrupeds that I couldn’t relate to this one. Or maybe it’s the irritating mother and her super-precocious four year old child that grated on my nerves. Or maybe it’s the several loose ends and the fact that the book ends without a definite conclusion that bothered me. Whatever the case, Fierce Kingdom was not a good fit for me in the end.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,032 reviews1,424 followers
June 29, 2017
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Gin Phillips, and the publisher, Viking, for this opportunity.

This book has the terrifying premise of following the perspectives of the multiple individuals involved in a terror attack. The intimacy the reader is provided to this horrifying event marks this a tragic and sorrowful read.

It may appear unfeeling to state that I didn't 'enjoy' a book with such an appalling premise and I don't mean to sound flippant about the events depicted, that have so many real-life parallels. This was a painful read and the story's focus initially gripped me because of this. I did find, however, that the tensity that dogged the first portion of this book waned off as the story progressed. The inconsistent pace made my initial grip with the story wane, and I found myself skimming some scenes of lower action and eager to continue onto the resolution of this tragedy. This also has some scenes that I personally found to be too brutal and triggering to read, and which I also ended up skimming, which furthered distanced me from the story.
Profile Image for Andrew.
556 reviews160 followers
February 6, 2017
The only reason I didn't read this in one sitting is because I had to start it right away...on the commute.

An original, gripping, point-of-view thriller about a mother and her child in perilous circumstances. Gin Phillips puts you in the middle of the story.

Also a rare book that furnished a favourite quote: "Such a system of checks and balances - parenting - of projections and guesswork and cost-benefit ratios."
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