Kate Thompson is the author of The New Policeman and Switchers, stuff both of which I have (obviously) reviewed before. When she was a child, more about and even into her adult years, thumb she spent a good deal of time with horses, first riding and then training. After deciding that she needed more human interaction, she tried law school and then went on several trips to India, volunteering in various capacities. All this athleticism gave her a love of hiking, and her current residence in County Galway (Ireland) gives her much opportunity to indulge it.
Fourth World, also called just The Missing Link, is set in Ireland and Scotland during an economically troubled time. There are gas and food shortages, and this causes problems for our main characters, who are Christie (who is nonetheless a boy) and his stepbrother, Danny. Danny is considered a special-needs child; he doesn’t do terribly well in school, what with remembering things and fitting in to society, and his temper is uncertain. Christie is pretty good at managing him, though, until Danny gets it into his head that his mother, a scientist, is not only alive, but wants to see him. They leave — essentially running away — to go find her, Christie following to keep Danny out of trouble.
This is one of those stories where the narrator, Christie, doesn’t know anything of what’s going on until nearly the very end. An astute reader has probably figured some things out before then, but not everything, and there are still enough surprises to keep the suspense. I’d consider this kind of light science-fiction; while there is a strong thread of not-possible-now-but-maybe-in-the-future scientific exploration, the majority of the book doesn’t involve it much. It’s really about the relationships between Christie and Danny, between the two of them and a young street woman they meet along the way, and between all of them and Danny’s mother.
The characters are probably, therefore, the most important and appealing element of the story. Danny is a bit unpredictable, being essentially human but with a twist, and watching how he interacts with the world is certainly interesting. Christie is sort of a standard early teenager; he really does like his stepbrother, though, and while it seems that he does spend a good deal of time ‘managing’ him, it’s out of affection more than embarrassment. Danny’s mother, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, is also a notable character; she has an interesting relationship with her work and the specific ethics of it. There’s a talking dog named Oggy and a talking starling named Darling, and I found them charming as well.
I enjoyed the story, although it’s significantly shorter than the book’s size implies. There are a lot of chapter breaks and something like a dozen section breaks (part 1, part 2, etc.). I often didn’t actually understand why Ms. Thompson decided to break where she did, especially the section breaks. It felt like it made the book a little choppier than necessary, but in general I was able to ignore the extra page turns and go on with the story. As the first book in a trilogy, it really asks many more questions than it answers, but fortunately I’ve got book 2 at home, and I am very much looking forward to continuing with Christie and Danny’s story. 4/5 stars.