...[an] expertly made thriller ... Part of the book’s great allure is that the reader feels as if this character, Joan, is working out each of her dilemmas in real time ... Our full visibility into Joan’s moment-to-moment reasoning is also what makes this novel so clever and irresistible. Fierce Kingdom is a portrait of a mind at work under macabre duress ... before Lincoln’s chatter is grating, it is endearing, and we never find him grating as a character; we fret about his safety from start to finish. Joan’s desire to protect him is total, feral Fierce Kingdom is a diabolical enactment of a mother’s most tortured and catastrophic thoughts.
One of the more astonishing things about Fierce Kingdom is how firmly it is a novel about parenthood ... Fierce Kingdom explores how entwined violence is in the ordinary, and how for the young, it can be a safe abstraction, or cruelly real ... Because we make fun of helicopter parents for the lengths they go to to keep perfectly safe children even safer, we can can forget that, for children, safety is a kind of love — and that makes Fierce Kingdom a terrifying book, but more importantly, a beautiful one.
Joan’s inner monologue provides the bulk of the narration, her thoughts a rolling storm of tangents that relate history and inform motivation while governing pace and tone. Phillips’ characters are exquisitely rendered, her prose is artful and evocative, and the restraint she practices with regard to on-screen carnage grants weight to every shot fired and corpse discovered. Poignant and profound, this adrenaline-fueled thriller will shatter readers like a bullet through bone.
Although there is very little description of actual violence, the premise alone means the squeamish (and animal lovers) should probably skip this one. Those who want a tidy ending will also be disappointed. But fans of literary page-turners, like Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (2016), won’t want to miss this.
At times, the tension is so high, you may need to take a break. The zoo/park setting, in an unnamed American city, is meticulously rendered ... The behaviour and preoccupations of a four-year-old are so accurately rendered, you know this child. You can absolutely believe in every mistimed, too-loud conversation, every desire that needs immediate attention, and every incipient wail ... The child-in-danger motif has been well explored in much recent crime fiction but few set out to immerse themselves in the relationship between mother and child as Phillips has. It’s that relationship that brings the novel its relentless, overwhelming power.