Fierce Kingdom has a tense premise — gun men take over the zoo right before closing time — but most of the execution was less nail-biting thriller and more a depiction of how fiercely a mother would protect her son. It’s not that the danger didn’t exist but that the focus was more on how Joan kept Lincoln safe as they hid from the bad guys.
I love that the question of how far a mother would go to protect her son wasn’t just the usual one of how much she’s willing to sacrifice herself but also how far she’s willing to suppress her own humanity and instinct for kindness. Joan makes some tough decisions to protect Lincoln (a particularly damning one involves a baby), but we can understand why. At one point she thinks that to protect her son, she’d ‘splatter brains’, and many readers can likely think of a loved one they’d go to that extent for.
I’m also glad that Joan’s devotion to her son is tinged by a touch of resentment at having to protect him. Often, she thinks of how much easier it would be for her to escape/stay safe without a 40 lb 4 year old at her hip demanding food and toys, and I like how realistic and human this feels. She isn’t just a heroic mom who does super heroic feats, but rather also a woman who wants to survive herself.
The secondary characters Mrs Powell and Kailynn added texture to the novel. I wish we’d learned more of their back stories and spent more time with them as they’re at least as interesting if not more so as Joan and her son. More importantly though, it’s Joan and Lincoln encountering them that makes the pace pick up considerably in the latter half. As the bad guys’ plan nears its completion and things like Mrs Powell’s age and Kailynn’s nervous chatter heighten the danger for Joan and Lincoln, the book becomes more like a traditional nail-biter and difficult to put down.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.