Skip to main content

Fierce Kingdom


Fierce Kingdom

FIERCE KINGDOM will give you nightmares. I suppose that a cynic would call it a book version of one of those role-playing computer games, though that would be inaccurate. The story, as presented by author Gin Phillips, drops the reader into one of the worst scenarios imaginable, both for those who must deal with the situation and those who are powerless to affect the outcome. It’s a book that reads quickly but will not be easily forgotten.

The premise is simple enough and all the more terrifying for it. The novel takes place over the course of a little over three hours, a period of time that becomes an eternity. The (primary) narrator is a woman named Joan, who is with her four-year-old son Lincoln at a metropolitan zoo. The reader learns very early on that this visit to the zoo, which occurs once preschool is over for the day, is a common practice for them. They know the zoo and its inhabitants intimately, and have their favorite places. Lincoln also has small toys --- superhero action figures --- that he utilizes in elaborate stories that take place in some of the zoo’s settings.

"Not a lot happens in FIERCE KINGDOM --- it’s a psychological study with action thriller elements expertly added to the mix --- but Phillips makes the most of its simple, though extremely tragic and horrifying, occurrence."

The zoo is set to close for the day, and Joan and Lincoln’s latest visit is about to end when their world turns upside down. Joan detects that something is wrong near the exit and turns back into the zoo, urging Lincoln along. Her instinct is correct. A trio of active shooters has entered the zoo at closing time and is killing everyone they encounter, people and animals alike. Joan must protect Lincoln (and herself) by evading the killers in the labyrinth of the zoo grounds, which she is quickly forced to view as a place of concealment rather than entertainment. She also must somehow impress upon Lincoln how serious the situation is and how necessary it is for him to stay quiet, all the while without alarming him.

This, of course, is an all-but-impossible task, even for a child of Lincoln’s advanced intelligence, which is demonstrated in fine “show, don’t tell” form by Phillips through Joan’s first-person present narrative. Intelligence aside, the four-year-old doesn’t quite get it (at least not immediately), and the author ratchets up more than a good deal of tension by showing us the steps that Joan goes through --- not always or completely successfully --- to get Lincoln to take it down a notch or three so that the loonies with the automatic rifles don’t take them out.

While Joan isn’t an entirely sympathetic character, being for one a bit of a racist (not all shooters are “young white males”) and a little too quick to judge others in general, her sins such as they might be are minor considering that her only concern is to preserve the life of her son in any way she can. Phillips very wisely does not bequeath Joan with an unexpected skill set --- she never received special ops training in a life before motherhood 10 years before) --- or the sudden appearance of a weapon in her purse (she didn’t smuggle a Glock into the zoo), nor does she find a CRKT Ultima laying on the sidewalk and use it to cut the throats of the attackers. No, it’s hide and seek all the way, with Joan doing the hiding, initially by herself but with some assistance along the way. Phillips also gives us some insight into the wastes of skin who are terrorizing the zoo, one of whom is merely awful, another of whom is a waste of ammo, and the ultimate baddy, who...well, you have to read the book to see how it all comes out.

Not a lot happens in FIERCE KINGDOM --- it’s a psychological study with action thriller elements expertly added to the mix --- but Phillips makes the most of its simple, though extremely tragic and horrifying, occurrence. The book, probably unintentionally, makes a strong, nearly irrefutable argument for the need for concealed carry to defend against this type of action while at the same time asks what motivates people to attack innocent strangers without cause or reason, even as the suspense builds and intensifies page by page. Recommended, particularly for moms and those who love them.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 4, 2017

Fierce Kingdom
by Gin Phillips

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735224528
  • ISBN-13: 9780735224520