Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips,
Viking, 2017.

Genre: Fiction/Thriller

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Fierce Kingdom left me feeling a bit lukewarm, at first.  But not because the story isn’t good, but rather because they marketed the book as a thriller, which skewed my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, being trapped inside a zoo at night with your toddler and a couple of gunmen does create a page-turner.  But the thriller aspect of it seemed a bit tame (no pun intended).  The opportunities to generate high intensity were there, but for the most part, they seemed to be ignored.

I suspect that is because Gin was more concerned about writing a book that described the bonds of motherhood, and that the thriller aspect was just a convenient mechanism to convey that bond.  So I don’t blame Gin for my disappointment, I blame the marketers.  I doubt Gin ever intended it to be a thriller, in the typical sense.  Yes, it has moments of intensity.  But the cornerstone of the book revolves around the bond between Joan and her 4-year old son, Lincoln.  This is where the author excels.

Joan’s inner dialogue provides most of the narration.  We hear Joan as she contemplates the risk of leaving their safe hiding spot to find food for her son, versus the risk of staying hidden and the uncontrollable temper tantrum her son will throw as his blood sugar drops.  As Lincoln’s mother, she can identify with uncertain precision, just how long before Lincoln blows.  We hear Joan as distracts her son with quiet chatter about porcupines and superheros.  Meanwhile, Joan’s own super hero strength is her ability to know her son.  It is her ability to focus on the intimate details of Lincoln and to anticipate his moods and actions.  This is intensity of the thriller.

And as with any other feral animal in the zoo, Joan relies on her primal, maternal instincts to protect her son.  But she also relies on her intellect to do so.  Part of what makes this book so compelling is that you can see how Joan’s rational mind works at every moment.  But is that realistic?  If I am running in flip flops, toting my 40 pound toddler on my hip, all the while being chased by gunmen, I think I would be in total flight mode.  I’m not so sure I would be as clear-headed as to contemplate the pros and cons of hiding in the old porcupine exhibit.  And yet, that is exactly what Joan does.  Her mind is lucid enough in her flight to contemplate the risks and merits of every decision. Maybe she really is a superhero?

And Lincoln himself is endearing, despite his whiz-kid vocabulary and uncanny knowledge of presidential trivia.  Yes, there are moments when you want to smack him when he uses his “not-so-quiet” quiet voice.  But he is only four, so I’ll cut him some slack.  Just don’t ask me to take him to the zoo.

So read Fierce Kingdom and enjoy it as a story about the amazing bond of motherhood, not as a super-scary-edge-of-your-seat-thriller.

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