The White Horse Trick, By Kate Thompson

A magical world in deep water
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The Independent Culture

Kate Thompson's The White Horse Trick does the impossible: it's a cracking travel story blending Irish mythology with climate chaos. Add to that an eccentric fairy who has a craving for tobacco with some splendid family showdowns and you get a teenage novel which would not feel out of place in any book group.

Thompson, an award-winning children's author and daughter of the historian E P Thompson, has long been based in Ireland. Drawing strongly on Irish fireside tales of good, bad, and just ain't fair, the action switches between the safe haven of Tír na n'Óg, where time stands still in the sunshine, and a messed-up late 21st-century world which clearly ignored the Stern Review on climate change.

Tír na n'Óg – a sort of Irish Valhalla – is not quite a paradise. When the wet and hungry climate refugees find a way to safety, their clothes stay rain-sodden. Even for the fairies there are drawbacks – unruly goblins and zero nursery places, so if you want to raise children you need to slip through the time gap to find a human foster family.

But human history here is at a shaky point. Cataclysmic climate change has raised the sea level and drowned the villages. There have long been no oil imports and the scrub hazel cannot regenerate as people desperately gather it for just one more fire. The endless rain wrecks attempts to grow food, and a tinpot army is in control. If the rain is bad, then the occasional droughts are devastating.

Despite the heavy theme, this is a positive tale that helps readers envision different ways of living. It does so without once lecturing about energy efficiency or using the bus, but by racing us through likeable teen fairy Jenny's romance, and piling on comic scenes before concluding with a fittingly Gaian regeneration. It's best read with the rain pouring down, although for maximum fairy force I'd like Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown to use it as motivational reading at the Copenhagen climate talks.

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