Title: Fierce Kingdom
Author: Gin Phillips
Date of Publication: July 25, 2017
When Joan takes her four-year-old son to the zoo for a day of frolicking with the wildlife, of course she doesn’t expect to be staying at the zoo later into the night, fearing for her life while a killer hunts her down. Joan must keep her son out of the clutches of this psychopath–no matter the cost.
This novel is what the publishing business calls “high concept”. The idea behind the story is really quite simple: Joan is trapped in the zoo with her son and there’s a shooter on the loose. While it’s a very intriguing concept, it quickly becomes clear that the author didn’t have any other ideas when she wrote up this story. The plot is quite formulaic, without any real twists in the story. The decisions that Joan makes are at times understandable, but often they’re quite infuriating. Sure, your cell phone glows when you receive a text message, but getting rid of it is not a good idea, Joan. You will need it later. There were some plotholes like this – if you’re carrying a bag around with you, just put the phone in your bag! Put it on airplane mode. Check out the settings and turn off notifications! There were so many better ways that she could have handled that.
Anyway, I’m nitpicking on one plot issue, but honestly, the entire novel was full of these.
While the book is primarily told from Joan’s perspective, we do get brief scenes from the points of view of some of the other survivors, but that wasn’t consistent. We were, however, consistently provided POV scenes from the shooters.
The story really lags in the middle, but it picks up again towards the end. There wasn’t much going on in terms of twists and turns in the plot. Everything carries out the way you would expect, although, I would have expected the police to show up a lot earlier. Turns out the explanation for them not showing up is somewhat satisfactory. Somewhat.
Joan is the typical overprotective mother. One thing that I did enjoy about the story was how insensitive she was to the needs of the other survivors. She finds the talkative girl annoying – and even though it’s clear to the reader that the girl is jabbering on because she’s nervous and it’s her coping mechanism–Joan doesn’t realize this until later, because she’s so wrapped up in her own coping mechanisms.
Joan’s son is really quite adorable at first, but it starts to get laid on too thick when Phillips hounds the reader with one cute anecdote after another. Every parent thinks that their child is a special snowflake, but as a non-parent, I started to find this grated on my nerves. I understand that Phillips was doing this to make the reader invested in the outcome of the story, and that the true story is about how much this woman loves her child, but it definitely wore on me after a while.
I also really really hate when authors use mental disability or mental illness to make a villain seem scarier. No. Just don’t.
This novel is very a very easy read, which makes me think of the Mark Twain line, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’s a favourite line for me, as a writer, and I do think this applies here. I can critique the story and the characters until the cows come home, but it’s clear to me that Phillips has a talent for getting the words on the page to depict exactly what she means. Her writing style bumped my rating up from two stars to three. The novel is also quite short, and so while some parts drag (as mentioned in the Plot section), these parts are over rather quickly and then it’s on to the next plot point.
I recommend this book to those looking for a quick yet linear thriller that focuses on the relationship between a mother and her infant son.
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