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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony By Eoin Colfer. Published by Penguin Books.


When Artemis Fowl first came out, it was, as usual for children’s books at the time, acclaimed as being just like Harry Potter. Come to think of it, that’s still happening today - if it’s a fantasy story and the main character is a boy, it’s Harry Potter, please buy it. Which is a pity, because I think the Artemis Fowl books, at least, will become classics in their own right and attract their own audiences, without any need of support from J.K. Rowling.

Of course, this series isn’t remotely like the Potter books. About all the protagonists have in common is that they’re both eleven year old boys in the first book and grow up in the course of the series. The same can be said of The Dark Is Rising, which was written long before either the Potter or the Fowl books and even has a wizardly mentor (Merlin, actually, still around in modern Britain) - so what?

Harry was a good boy, having adventures with his friends. Artemis was a young criminal genius. He didn’t, at the time, have any friends except his bodyguard, Butler, who genuinely cared about him. While Harry was trying to save the world by finding and destroying the philosopher’s stone, which confers immortality and turns base metal into gold, Artemis was busy kidnapping a fairy, in order to steal gold from her people. Just like Harry Potter? Hardly!

Now we’ve got that out of the way, on to the review.

Fairies in this universe are technologically advanced centuries beyond humans, though they’re magical beings who need contact with the earth to keep themselves going, but have been driven underground long ago. Still, these fairies kick ass, especially their police force, the LEPrecon (get it?). The fairy races are many things, but cute and sweet are not among them. Take the dwarfs, for example. They tunnel by unhinging their jaws and eating their way through the soil - and of course, the gas has to come out somewhere, to help propel them along, hence the “bumflap” in the dwarf’s garment... Ouch!

I haven’t read an Artemis Fowl novel for some time - the last one was the second, in fact. This novel is the fifth and it makes me want to go back and fill in the gaps. I found myself falling comfortably back into the universe. One character, alas, has died since the last time I read a Fowl novel. Artemis is now fourteen and has matured. He’s made friends among the fairies, including the one he kidnapped in Book 1, and is starting, shock horror, to act like a good guy! Oh, yes, and trying to handle puberty.

Just as well, then, that there’s another junior criminal genius to attract him, a sort of female Artemis called Minerva. To be fair, Minerva doesn’t want to harm anybody or steal anything, she just wants to be the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for physics and has no problem with grabbing a magical being to do it. The trouble is, her ambitions might, unintentionally, destroy an entire lost fairy race, the demons. Time is running out to save them, and Artemis and his friends are relying on a small imp who’s the last demon warlock alive...

A series like this could quite easily have gone downhill by Book 5, but it hasn’t. You really want to know what happens next and this one has an ending that lets you know, quite clearly, that there’s more to come and that the author has been thinking quite carefully about Artemis’s future. After all, he is a teenager now, one who is starting to notice girls, but he needs a girl with his own intelligence. It would have worked better if Minerva had played a larger role in the events at the novel’s climax, but I’d be very surprised if she wasn’t back in the next book.

There’s a “gnommish" alphabet at the end of the book, with a long message throughout the book, disguised as a pretty border. Anna Ciddor’s Viking trilogy had rune messages in it, but at least she put them at the end of each chapter. Runes might have worked better in this one than the picture-based letters, because children can actually copy runes and write their own messages. Oh, well.

Excuse me, I’m off to make my way through the book again, to see what the message says...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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