Doubleday | 2017 (15 June) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book
There is nothing more fierce than a mother protecting her child.
The zoo is one of Lincoln’s favourite places. The four-year-old boy and his mother Joan go all the time, to play in the sandpit with his little superhero figures and watch the animals. But this one particular day, just minutes from the zoo’s closing time, they hear the sound of a gun firing. Making their way towards the zoo’s exit, Joan sees shapes on the ground. They are the bodies of the shot. She picks Lincoln up and she runs for their lives.
Fierce Kingdom takes place over a period of just three hours. During those hours, Joan’s focus is entirely on saving her son. As they cling to each other, nothing else matters. We spend much of the novel following Joan’s thoughts as she works through each problem – how to keep Lincoln quiet, how to feed him, how not to be seen, how to escape the gunmen, how to survive. Joan is consumed by her fears and this brings up all manner of thoughts about her past, her preoccupations with death and loss, her love for her husband and child, her transition from independent woman to fiercely protective mother and wife.
We don’t just spend time with Joan, there are brief chapters that we spend with others, such as the teenage girl who works in the zoo restaurant, a school teacher and, chillingly, one of the gunmen, Robby, whose confused thoughts chart his progression from schoolboy to murderer.
This is a thoroughly exciting novel and extremely fast to read as Joan and Lincoln literally race around the zoo. The tension is maintained throughout and the fear feels very real.
I did have a couple of minor issues. Firstly, I was expecting a lot more to do with the zoo animals and they actually feature very little. The novel is set in the US and the schoolteacher reflects on the high number of her students who have committed murder, rape and armed robbery (a few are on Death Row). This distanced me from the events of the novel as it made me feel that this is being presented as an unsurprising event. If it had been in a European zoo, I may have shared more of the tension because it would have seemed extraordinary. Lastly, Joan makes a couple of decisions that puzzled me (why did she throw away a phone that she only needed to turn off?). But all of this is quibbling as Fierce Kingdom is undoubtedly a very entertaining and fast action thriller with an original figure at its heart – a woman who will do absolutely anything to save the life of her child.