Fierce Kingdom

Fierce Kingdom fixes a reader's hands to the binding and eyes to the page with no apparent escape, even while the plot threatens to bring on severe angina. Gin Phillips (The Well and the Mine) masterfully turns a euphoric mother-son afternoon zoo outing into a three-hour evening of terror on the turn of a dime, and never lets her characters or reader catch a breath.

Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, are hurrying to leave the zoo at closing time when she realizes the scattered scarecrow decorations are actually bodies and a man with a gun is between her and the exit. What follows is a zero-to-60 account of a mother's efforts to keep her son safe in a harrowing cat-and-mouse scenario that is anything but a game.

Walking a tightrope between needing her son to understand enough to stay safe and not wanting him to appreciate their grim reality, Joan works exquisitely with Lincoln while facing an internal combustion engine of competing impulses. How we want to respond as a fellow human in an emergency is never who we can be when our child is at risk.

Phillips is adept at creating a foreboding sense of space, turning the zoo into a macabre mousetrap. Every new noise could be death around the corner while the park's innocent soundtrack blares through the speakers. In a fierce microcosm of a brutal world, men with guns run up against the most ferocious force in any kingdom--a mother protecting her child. Fierce Kingdom is stunning and extraordinary; keep the defibrillator handy. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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