This copy of Fierce Kingdom is a Goodreads giveaway win. It is an uncorrected proof - due for release mid June. I love it when a book I've had the privilege of reading in advance hits the shelves on publication day. It makes me feel just a teensy weensy bit smug, like when there's some juicy gossip doing the rounds but I already knew about it weeks ago.
For me, the cover is quite unsettling but in a good way. You can clearly see this is a mother and a child running away from something, but what? As a mother, I know I would do anything to protect my child so I was rooting for the woman in the picture before I'd even started reading. Run, take his hand and run.
The Blurb: Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and
well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are. "The
rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let
the man with the gun find us." When an ordinary day at the zoo turns
into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She
must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect
Lincoln at all costs - even if it means crossing the line between right
and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct. It's a line none of us
would ever normally dream of crossing. But sometimes the rules are
I was hooked from the beginning. I loved the introduction to Joan and her son Lincoln. You immediately get a sense of the strong bond they have. Lincoln is quite a mature four year old. He has an amazing sense of humour, he asks lots of questions and can handle honest answers which has given him a good sense of the world he lives in. I found myself being transported back to when my son was four. He was so much like Lincoln but inside that clever little head there was still a four year old child, capable of tears and tantrums, just like Lincoln. I warmed instantly to these two. I already cared about Lincoln like he was my own.
The Zoo is about to close and as they start to make their way towards the exit they hear popping sounds. Joan dismisses them as fireworks, an odd time for fireworks but it is what it is.
As they approach the exit, Joan sees bodies lying on the ground. It dawns on her that she hardly saw a soul on her way back through the Zoo. She sees a man facing the other way, she sees the gun in his hand - it's not fireworks - it's her worst nightmare. She doesn't stop to think. She scoops Lincoln up into her arms and runs.
This is where I had to put the book down for a moment and gather myself. My heart was pounding so bad. I felt like it was me in the story. I began to think about what I would do. Which direction would I run in? Would I stay calm or would I freak out and give us away?
Joan, being familiar with the Zoo does manage to find somewhere to hide, for now, but keeping Lincoln calm isn't going to be easy. He's hungry, he's cranky, he's scared and he wants answers.
Again, I was thinking what would I do? Would I risk telling him the truth, that yes, if the gunmen find us they might kill us, or would I lie and say it's all going to be ok? Four year olds can be unpredictable. The truth could quite easily send him into a complete meltdown, risking noise and discovery. The truth could just as easily paralyse him with fear, causing him to go into himself, too afraid to speak or move. As heart wrenching as it is, the second option would be my preference if it means he gets through this nightmare alive.
Each and every chapter is filled with suspense. Throughout the story we come across other innocents, also desperately seeking safety, the most harrowing of all, a mother with a screaming baby and nowhere to hide.
We see the gunmen, hunting. Humans - animals, it makes no difference to them. We see beautiful animals slain. We see two Colobus monkeys. One is dead, the other one beside it, looking frightened and confused. Is it mourning? Does it know what's happening? Such a sad, sad sight.
Throughout the book, Joan is forced to make decisions that could potentially save her and Lincolns life or get them killed. A couple of times I was horrified and almost gasped out loud at the decision she made. The trash can scene especially. Without giving anything away, I'm not sure I could have done what she did but I 100% understand why she did and if I were in the same situation, who knows.
There were many beautifully descriptive scenes, however some of them did go on for just that tiny bit too long, killing the suspense and the tenseness I'd been feeling just moments earlier.
We briefly meet Robbie, one of the gunmen but we never really get to understand much about his motives.
The ending was really frustrating. You are left to make up your own mind as to whether certain characters made it out alive or not. We don't get to see life after the event. How are the characters coping with the aftermath? We don't get to see if anyone went back to the trash can. Please Gin Phillips, did anyone go back to the trash can?
I feel mentally exhausted. Fierce Kindgom had my heart pounding and my palms sweating the whole way through and I actually had a nightmare about it. Why did I have a nightmare? Because the subject matter is real. This happens. It could happen to anyone, at any time, anywhere and for no reason at all. That's whats terrifying.
4 out for 5 for this one.