Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

9780857525017Piercingly effective and genuinely terrifying, Gin Phillips’ Fierce Kingdom is that rarest of thriller: one in which the emotional stakes are just as extreme as the physical threat faced by its characters.

Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, are playing in the Dinosaur Discovery Pit at the zoo when the crack of gunshots echo. Puzzled by the noise, but not immediately anxious by it, mother and son make their way towards the exit… which is where they discover the bodies on the ground.

And a gunman.

Very soon, more than one.

Joan and Lincoln flee into the heart of the zoo, desperate for a place to hide, to see out the violence undiscovered. But how does a mother explain such savagery to a four-year-old boy? How will she cope with the fluctuating emotions and questions of a child faced with an extreme scenario? And what are the heart-breaking decisions and sacrifices she must make to keep her child safe?

Fierce Kingdom is a relentless page-turner that relies more heavily on psychological drama than it does high-impact violence. Brilliantly paced to maximise tension and its emotional impact, this is compulsively readable but incredibly chilling, with more than a few heart-in-mouth moments. Dripping with moral ambiguity, until Phillips’ novel, if you’d told me I’d be enraptured by a tale of a mother deliberating her maternal instincts, I might not have believed you: but this macabre tale proves horribly fascinating.

It’s a book that begs for discussion; that demands readers ask themselves, What would you do? Because faced with certain death, there is no right or wrong. There is just survival. And, ultimately, living with the consequences.

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