Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Digital Audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Published by Viking on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Length: 288 pages or 8 hours, 3 minutes
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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?
Thrillers are hit-or-miss with me. Either I’m obsessed with them, or they fall flat. Fierce Kingdom fell flat for me, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the fault of the book? I think I wasn’t quite the right audience for this thriller.
Firstly, a lot of the actual suspense would have hit home better with a mother. The first half of the book is all about Joan’s fear about Lincoln, and something happening to her son. There’s a lot of flashbacks about her son, and I do feel like all this would have been more relatable to a parent. I don’t have children, and I haven’t spent a lot of time with young children – just birthdays and holidays and the occasional dinner with friends – so these scenes didn’t drawn on my personal fears the way they would for someone else. That said, I don’t think you have to have children to find this a successful thriller. While the suspense in the first half of the book didn’t work for me, Ali @ The Bandar Blog thought it was INTENSE in all the best ways. I think it was her review that got it on my TBR in the first place.
It did help a little that there were more perspectives the further I got into the book. Joan made up the majority of the narration, but some of the hostages and shooters were also represented. That said, there didn’t feel like there was much variety. I couldn’t easily tell many of the hostages apart when the perspectives shifted, because all their thoughts were so scattered. I had to wait for pronouns or, most the time, a name drop to know where I was and who I was with.
Alright, so all that aside, there were aspects that were interesting. Fierce Kingdom is a slice of one woman’s terror behind a hostage situation at a zoo. There’s a constant stream of consciousness running in Joan’s head, some of which is interesting and some of which feels like filler. Joan has moments of her life passing through her eyes. She questions about her responsibility to her fellow humans – there’s a scene with an abandoned baby in a trash can that’s particularly rough and powerful. There’s conversations and questions of faith. It’s interesting to watch it unfold once I figured out where I was and whose head I was in.
I found the pacing to be very slow. I never speed up my audiobooks, I feel like it takes away from the story to lose the careful cadence that the narrators offer (personal taste). If I’m going to listen to an audiobook, I want it to feel like a performance. But with Fierce Kingdom, I had to listen to this on 2x speed. I had to. If I hadn’t sped this one up, I would have DNF’d it. This may be less of an issue for those who are reading the physical copy, but I’m not so sure. There’s simply so much introspection it feels like nothing is happening.
Something like that is intentional in a thriller. It’s all about style. I get bored by this particular style. There aren’t enough big things breaking up the slow introspection to keep me interested, but for the right audience, this would bring tension. Misery was a lot like this, but every time I was ready to stop reading, something horrifying and shocking happened to draw me in. That didn’t really work for me in Fierce Kingdom. There were moments that were supposed to draw you in, but … I don’t know, I guess I didn’t believe them?
Then, there’s the ending. After everything that had gone down, and after everything done to build it up, the ending felt very anti-climatic to me. There was no sigh of relief moment. It was just… done. For a thriller, this felt like major let down. I want the anxiety to tumble off my shoulders, but as the book ended, I thought, “That’s it?”.
I understand that’s not really fair. It’s not a bad book. It would just be more successful in someone else’s hands. Also I love the cover? So it has that going for it. I do want to note that animals are killed in this book – I don’t want anyone surprised by this. I didn’t like this book, but I think it definitely has an audience, so if you like thrillers, keep this on your TBR. If you’re on the fence, I would bypass it, even though it’s a short book.