Artemis Fowl

Star summary: 

2-- Morals- tricky. Writing- too sparse for my taste. Characters- as an introductory book, far from bad. Certainly a creative twist on "traditional" fairy tales. Life-lessons can be gathered from this book, but more from their lack than their appearance.

Follows the first exploit of 12-year-old criminal mastermind, Artemis Fowl. He comes from a long line of geniuses who amassed their gold by less-than-above-board means. With his father gone, and his mother so grief-stricken that she is confined to her room, Artemis has free run of the place, and has set his sights on fairy gold. Protected by his trusty bodyguard, the solid, loyal Butler, he cracks the code to a fairy book, and becomes familiar with their underworld's secrets. Familiar enough to kidnap a fairy-- Holly, a member of the elite "Lower Elements Police recon team." (aka lep-recon, get it?) He may have bought off more than he can chew by holding her for ransom. Will he manage to have his gold and his life, too? Or will he and his entire family be blasted to nothingness by the fairy's ultra-high-tech "blue rinse" bomb?

The first in the series not only introduces us to the dubious yet lovable Artemis, it also sets up Colfer's version of the fairy legends. These fairies have magic, yes, but more than that, they have technology, brains, exceedingly efficient communication, and fire-power. This brings along bureaucracy, red tape, laws and edicts, etc. Colfer's re-spinning of classic material is worth the price of the book. His characters are varied and colorful, with realistically mixed motives and sullied characters. The writing is fairly stark and fast-paced, reading somewhat like an official report. We get third-person accounts from many perspectives. Most of the humor is sarcasm and/or juvenile (like the mining dwarf pooping dirt out at high-speed as he tunnels, and then giving away his position with a massive burst of "fairy flatulence"). Technology, an action-based plot, fast-paced writing, a dash of body humor... need I say that his audience seems to be young boys?

Cautions? The premise of the book is a planned kidnapping followed by a theft. Artemis' sense of right and wrong is fairly twisted, if not outright lacking. He shows glimpses of love for his parents, and without a doubt is loyal to his servant Butler (who is likewise devoted to him) and Butler's sister Juliet. However, he is a child without supervision, without authority, and without any guidance. A recipe for foolishness.

Also the lines between good and evil need discussing; though at first Artemis seems evil, by the end of the book we nearly love him. Though the fairies are set against him (leading us to believe they're the "good guys"), they are all too willing to wipe out an entire household to keep their secrets safe. Butler is a good friend to his charge Artemis, but Artemis isn't really good. Then there's Mulch Diggums, an escaped convict who robs everyone and helps a few people along the way. No clear good guys.

Themes? The folly and lure of greed. It all started because Artemis wanted the fairy's gold. It all ended when he was willing to give (most of) it up to heal his mother.

Bottom line? Gold is elusive and temporary, while people last forever and are far more important. Even the most wayward child craves the loving guidance of a parent, despite the restrictions it brings.

Talking points:
-- Who do you think the "bad guys" are?
-- Where could Artemis' father be? Do you think he'll come back?
-- Contrast the fairies in this story to fairies in other fantasy tales you've read.
-- Compare the Lower Elements Police to the Ministry of Magic of Harry Potter's world.
-- Why was Artemis so ready to get his mother healed, even though he knew it would greatly curtail his (criminal) exploits?

Appropriate audience: Reading- Grade 5 & up. Listening- age 9 & up.

Stars: 2
Morals- tricky. Writing- too sparse for my taste. Characters- as an introductory book, far from bad. Life-lessons can be gathered from this book, but more from their lack than their appearance. Certainly a creative twist on "traditional" fairy tales. Read with parental guidance, this is a fun-filled fresh look at a world we all love to imagine.

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