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Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom

by Gin Phillips

Quick take

The air crackles with malevolence and unbearable tension, as even the zoo animals, locked in their cages, sense the approaching violence.

Why I love it

Sarah Weinman

Fight or flight. Rage or relief. A good suspense novel evokes our most primitive emotions. The adrenaline spikes as we desperately need to know what happens next. And if the book is really good, time spent in the grip of mounting fear pays off with an explosive and cathartic ending.

Fierce Kingdom delivers a level of pure fear that I hadn’t felt in ages. It’s the story of Joan, a mother who spends an afternoon with her four-year-old son at their local zoo. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out.

The most dangerous creatures in the zoo, of course, are not the animals locked in their cages but the people who visit them. And as daylight begins to fade away, trouble arrives—and Joan will seek somewhere, anywhere, to hide. The air crackles with malevolence and unbearable tension, as even the zoo animals, trapped in captivity, sense the approaching violence.

What will Joan do to protect her son? Will she sacrifice herself for him? Or vice versa? What would we do in a similar situation? Of course the zoo is the perfect literal and metaphorical place to explore these questions. When primal fears take over, how far can we be pushed before we lose our humanity and act solely on instinct?

Sharp, pointed, precise— Fierce Kingdom inhabits the true feeling of real time. In fact, the entire story takes place during exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes. Decisions arrive quickly—or unbearably slowly. Hours rush by and then seconds stretch out. Catharsis arrives and the payoff is brilliant, yes. But this novel continues to haunt me. And it will haunt you, too.

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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.

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?

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