Some of the best thrillers start with a perfectly ordinary situation and then ask, “What if?” What if people were lapsing into comas in a hospital after simple operations for sinister reasons? What if someone managed to clone dinosaurs on a special island? And now, in Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips, the question is, what would you do if you were a mother of a young child and the two of you were caught in an active shooter situation, and what if that active shooter situation took place at the local zoo?
Aren’t you intrigued already?
Joan is spending a pre-Halloween day at the zoo with her four year old son, enjoying the exhibits and their time together. It’s an all but perfect day as they’re leaving, just before the zoo is closing, and suddenly she hears what she thinks at first is firecrackers and then recognizes as gunfire. Then she sees that what she thought were fallen scarecrows on the path are much more sinister and scary. Realizing there are active shooters at the zoo, she takes her son and runs back inside to hide with him for their protection. Her son, Lincoln, is only 4 years old and doesn’t really understand why he needs to keep calm and quiet, how very dangerous everything is, so not only does Joan have to think fast and keep away from the shooters, but she has to make sure Lincoln doesn’t accidentally do something that will endanger them both.
Now everything the two of them had seen and enjoyed during the day takes on a different aspect: the hidden pathways, the exhibits that are being renovated, the carousel, the snack machines are no longer interesting things to see and explore, but potentially life-saving hiding places. Joan and her son are trapped in the zoo, almost as much as the zoo animals themselves. What is she willing to do to survive and to protect her precious son?
She’s not the only one trapped inside the zoo, and we see the perspectives of some of those other characters as well as the killers themselves, but the heart of the book is Joan and Lincoln, their bond, their danger, and the moment by moment decisions she has to make that could have catastrophic consequences for her and her child. This is the kind of book you won’t want to put down.