Artemis Fowl

by Eoin Colfer

Cover image

Series: Artemis Fowl #1
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Copyright: 2001
ISBN: 1-4231-2452-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 281

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Artemis Fowl is the heir to the Fowl criminal empire and a child prodigy. He's also one of the few humans to know of the existence of fairies, who are still present in the world, hiding from humans and living by their own rules. As the book opens, he's in search of those rules: a copy of the book that governs the lives of fairies. With that knowledge, he should be able to pull off a heist worthy of his family's legacy.

Captain Holly Short is a leprechaun... or, more correctly, a LEPrecon. She's one of the fairy police officers that investigate threats to the fairies who are hiding in a vast underground civilization. The fairies have magic, but they also have advanced (and miniaturized) technology, maintained in large part by a grumpy and egotistical centaur (named Foaly, because it's that sort of book). She's also the fairy unlucky enough to be captured by Artemis's formidable personal bodyguard their first attempt to kidnap a hostage for their ransom demands.

This is the first book of a long series of young adult novels that has also spawned graphic novels and a movie currently in production. It has that lean and clear feeling of the younger side of young adult writing: larger-than-life characters who are distinctive and easy to remember, a short introductory setup that dives directly into the main plot, and a story that neatly pulls together every element raised in the story. The world-building is its strongest point, particularly the mix of tongue-in-cheek technology — ships that ride magma plumes, mechanical wings, and helmet-mounted lights to blind trolls — and science-tinged magic that the fairies build their police and army on. Fairies are far beyond humans in capability, and can be deadly and ruthless, but they have to follow a tightly constrained set of rules that are often not convenient.

Sadly, the characters don't live up to the world-building. I did enjoy a few of them, particularly Artemis's loyal bodyguards and the dwarf Mulch Diggums. But Holly, despite being likable, is a bit of a blank slate: the empathetic, overworked trooper who is mostly indistinguishable from other characters in similar stories. The gruff captain, the sarcastic technician Foaly, and the various other LEP agents all felt like they were taken straight from central casting. And then there's Artemis himself.

Artemis is the protagonist of the story, in that he's the one who initiates all of the action and the one who has the most interesting motivations. The story is about him, as the third-person narrator in the introduction makes clear. He's trying very hard to be a criminal genius with the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes and the speaking style of a Bond villain, but he's also twelve, his father has disappeared, and his mother is going slowly insane. I picked this book up on the recommendation of another reader who found that contrast compelling.

Unfortunately, I thought Artemis was just an abusive jerk. Yes, yes, family tragedy, yes, he's trapped in his conception of himself, but he's arrogant, utterly uncaring about how his actions affect other people, and dismissive and cruel even to his bodyguards (who are much better friends than he deserves). I think liking this book requires liking Artemis at least well enough to consider him an anti-hero, and I can squint and see that appeal if you have that reaction. But I just wanted him to lose. Not in the "you will be slowly redeemed over the course of a long series" way, but in the "you are a horrible person and I hope you get what's coming to you" way. The humor of the fairy parts of the book was undermined too much by the fact that many of them would like to kill Artemis for real, and I mostly wanted them to succeed.

This may or may not have to do with my low tolerance for egotistical smart-asses who order other people to do things that they refuse to explain.

Without some appreciation for Artemis, this is a story with some neat world-building, a fairly generic protagonist in Holly, and a plot in which the bad guys win. To make matters worse, I thought the supposedly bright note at the end of the story was just creepy, as was everything else involving Artemis's mother. The review I read was of the first three books, so it's entirely possible that this series gets better as it goes along, but there wasn't enough I enjoyed in the first book for me to keep reading.

Followed by Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2017-09-25

Last modified and spun 2017-09-26