What would you do if your life was turned upside down in a second? If everything was OK until you heard a sound that changed everything? This is the premise in Gin Phillips’ novel, Fierce Kingdom.
Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, are enjoying an early evening visit to the local zoo when gunshots ring out at closing time. Over the next couple of hours, Joan must protect herself and her son from a massacre. How can you persuade a pre-schooler to behave in a situation like this?
As the mother of a four-year-old boy with the same obsessions as Lincoln, I really did find myself wondering at how I would respond to such a scenario (although I *did* slightly wonder at some of the language Lincoln used and the wisdom of Joan’s admission that she let him watch Predator, even without the swearing. I’m a fairly laissez faire parent, but that was a bit weird, even for me.) I also found myself wondering how my son would react. These are not comfortable thoughts, but they are compelling ones that meant I raced through the book. There were moments that Joan makes really difficult choices (including one that made me very uncomfortable) and although she’s not likeable, per se, you do see the logic of her actions.
Although Joan’s the main narrator, we also see glimpses of other characters- a young girl working in a cafe, one of the shooters, and a retired teacher- who happens to have taught Robby when he was in junior school. I would have liked more of this side of the story to have been explored, maybe because I know four-year-olds can be pretty boring sometimes (even in high-danger situations, probably) and also because as a teacher myself, I know that there are kids you look back on and think about what might have made them into the adults they ultimately became. It’s often the quiet ones that surprise you the most.
Overall, this is a compelling read that will make you question how you would respond to a dangerous situation: would you run, or would you hide?