Artemis Fowl by Irish author Eoin Colfer (first name pronounced Owen) is an impressive series of books that is a mash-up of fantasy, science fiction and spy novels with a twelve-year old genius at it's heart. And, amidst all the spectacular weaponry, reconnaissance gizmos, fairies, trolls, dwarves and centaurs, the characters are truly the heart of the books. Colfer takes such care and precision with the intellects, emotions and motivations of his creations, human or magical, that it is difficult not to be drawn into the stories regardless of your genre preferences. There are so many intricate, interconnected details that it is near impossible to describe this book with a handful of sentences. The short(ish) line that I give at work at the bookstore when trying to hook a reader goes like this: Have you heard that story about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Well, Artemis Fowl is a child genius and he decides that he is going to figure out how to trick the leprechauns and fairies out of their gold. Except, these aren't fairies like Tinker Bell or leprechauns like the Lucky Charms guy. These creatures have an amazing collection of special weapons and magical abilities. And there is a kleptomaniac dwarf who is capable of passing gas with the intensity of a cyclone and most of them, except the trolls, are about three feet tall. The longer description that truly does justice to Colfer's writing is as follows...
Artemis Fowl II comes from a long line of dubious and very wealthy Fowls. His father, hoping to capitalize on the break-up of communist Russia, invested a "huge chunk of the Fowl fortune in establishing new shipping lines to the vast continent. New consumers, he reasoned, would need new consumer goods." Unfortunately, the Russian mafia did not take well to Fowl's plans and launched a stolen missile at the Fowl Star, upon which Artemis Fowl I and his manservant were traveling, along with 250,000 cans of cola. Artemis Fowl I's manservant, Butler, also had a fascinating lineage. In fact, it is believed that the common noun "butler" originated from the unusual arrangement that began when Lord Hugo de Folé contracted Virgil Butler to be his bodyguard, servant and cook for one of the first great Norman Crusades. In present times, Butler children are sent, at age 10, to a special camp in Israel where they are taught the skills (including Cordon Bleu cooking, marksmanship, martial arts, emergency medicine and information technology) needed to guard the latest in the Fowl line. When there is not a Fowl in need of a Butler, they are snapped up by royal personages for work as body guards.
When we first meet Artemis Fowl II and Butler, nephew of the Butler who was on the Fowl Star, they are in Ho Chi Minh City on the trail of one of "The People," a race of magical creatures who have migrated underground as the human population (and general intolerance of those unlike them) encroached. Through internet research and offers of money, Artemis has found someone willing to lead him to a fairy living above ground with the "mud people," as humans are called. He is in search of a fairy because he has decided to rebuild the Fowl fortune by acquiring the archetypal leprechaun pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But, to do this he must first get his hands on (and decipher) the Book of the People, which is the instructions to "their magicks and life rules." Colfer creates his own fairy alphabet and includes a message for readers that runs continuously along the bottom of the pages of all the books in the series. For readers who are not also code breakers, the Artemis Fowl Files, reveals the code, among other cool things related to the series. After exhausting his computer resources, Artemis breaks the code on his own with the use of an X-acto knife and copies of the pages of the Book. From there, his plan is set in motion and his attempt to kidnap and ransom a fairy takes up the rest of the book. The machinations of Artemis's mind and the way that he seems to be able to see all possibilities and prepare for them, even beyond the inimitable abilities of Butler and his extensive training, is a delight. Artemis's plans are his alone to know and the reader witnesses them unfold along with the fairies, never knowing for sure what he has up his sleeve and what might bring him down. If not a rampaging troll, then what?
Among The People, Julius Root, Holly Short, Foaly and Mulch Diggums are equally as fascinating to watch face the dangerous, above ground situation Artemis has lured them into. Commander Root, a cigar chomping curmudgeon who returns to active duty to lead the team sent in to rescue Holly is an ultimately lovable character, kind of Lou Grant to Holly's Mary Tyler Moore. As the first female officer serving LEPrecon, an elite branch of the Lower Elements Police, Holly Short has a lot to prove and Root holds her to an even higher standard because of this. When she overlooks an important fairy Ritual that is required in order to recharge her magical battery, she puts herself exactly where Artemis wants her, and he couldn't have chosen a better victim. With the help of Foaly, a technological genius, and paranoid centaur who believes that human intelligence agencies are reading his thought and therefore wears a tinfoil hat at all times, Root and his team enter the Fowl estate prepared for a fight they are sure they will win. When things don't go as planned, Mulch Diggums, a dwarf who has allowed his magical abilities to lapse, thus freeing him from arcane fairy rules and rituals and therefore allowing him to enter human homes at will, is allowed a temporary release from prison to assist in the emergency. Mulch tunnels his way to Fowl Manor, performs his task and fakes his death. As the situation continues to spiral out of control for both Artemis and the fairies, a last ditch effort is made at a rescue that puts everyone in grave jeopardy - humans and magical creatures alike, but also puts Artemis in a position to garner empathy - and a wish - from Holly.
I never thought of myself as a lover of action books, but Colfer's combination of intricate characters and plot twists that are impossible to see coming have kept me reading each book in the series from start to finish. My husband and daughter have enjoyed this series as well. I have even found my 12 year old son, who avoids fiction as a rule, listening to book one on audio. Speaking of the audio, the story is brought to life by the British actor Nathaniel Parker, and are definitely worth giving a listen. The series has just been issued new covers and all six titles are available in paperback now. Aside from the great illustrations that grace the covers, the spines now, finally, thankfully, bear NUMBERS so that readers can be sure to tackle them in order, which is as follows...
The Artemis Fowl Series:
Don't miss Colfer's new series - W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin