Artemis Fowl is one of those books that I’ve always felt as though I should read because people tend to mention it in the same breath as Harry Potter. The series was written by Eoin Colfer and focuses on a young criminal mastermind as he tangles with a society of subterranean faeries known collectively as the People. The series ran for eight novels – Artemis Fowl (2001), Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (2002), Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (2003), Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (2004), Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony (2006), Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox (2008), Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (2010) and Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian (2012). For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at the first two novels only.
Artemis Fowl is far from ordinary. Although he is only twelve years old, he’s the son of a successful criminal and has a genius level IQ. With his father missing-presumed-dead and his mother insane with grief, it is now his duty to maintain his family’s wealth and restore their honour. Aided by his Butler, his bodyguard and only friend, he plans a heist unlike any the world has ever seen. For him, failure is never an option.
In Artemis Fowl, Artemis comes into possession of the Book of the People – a codex carried by every faerie. With his intelligence and the technology he has at his disposal, it is not long before he has deciphered their language and learned all of their secrets. Using this new knowledge he manages to capture Holly Short, an agent of the LEPrecon unit, and plans to ransom her back to her people for faerie gold. However, the faeries are not about to part with this without a fight. Soon, Artemis finds his mansion under siege. The LEP believe that saving Holly will be an easy matter but they may have woefully underestimated their human foe…
In Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, the LEP discover that the goblins have come into position of illegal battery-operated firearms and suspect that a human is involved. Naturally, their first though is Artemis Fowl but are shocked to discover that he’s innocent. Holly and Commander Root realise that they need Butler’s military expertise in order to capture the true perpetrator and so cut him a deal. If Butler assists them, they will help Artemis to mount a daring rescue mission across Russia to save his kidnapped father. It all seems simple but the faeries don’t realise that there’s a traitor in their midst…
First off, let’s get the most important thing out of the way. I know that I mentioned Harry Potter earlier but if anyone does try and compare these two books, I’d advise you to take no notice. Beyond the odd centaur, there is really no similarity between the two series. On the whole, Harry Potter was incredible. It had such timeless humour, whimsical world building and memorable characters that it could easily be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you’re looking for something similar in Artemis Fowl, you will be disappointed.
Is that a bad thing? Well, yes and no. The books may not have a wider appeal but they still make a challenging read for children. Despite the fact that I’ve been advised by a couple of different people that this is a young adult series, I’d personally recommend it more for middle grade readers (particularly 10-12 year olds) as I think that they’d probably get the most out of Colfer’s sense of humour. While the books could be incredibly funny in places, they did have a bit of an over-reliance on bathroom humour (particularly in the character of Mulch Diggums). While this will definitely appeal to a child’s love of gross things, I didn’t feel like this was enough to charm many older readers.
However, the stories do hold up pretty well. While the first book was a bit slow burning, it did ramp up to an impressive climax. The final twist of the novel is truly impressive and I certainly didn’t see it coming. I won’t spoil it for you here but it’s certainly worth reading the book just to see Artemis’s plan take shape. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident is a shade better still. The flow of this story was much smoother and it’s absolutely crammed full of action. While Colfer couldn’t replicate the brilliance of the previous book’s twist, I did find the story to be much more enjoyable. It felt as though the author had gotten all of his exposition out of the way in the first book and so had a lot more space in which to enjoy himself.
It was the exposition that really gave me the most trouble in Artemis Fowl. Although we find out a lot about the faeries in the first book, it’s nearly all told rather than shown. Very little time is wasted in the faerie world and so the facts about their race are almost exclusively presented in paragraphs of narration and needless conversations between faeries. Why do they need to keep discussing their laws among themselves? Surely they all must know them!
Then there was the environmental message. This was portrayed in both books (though, again, more so in the first) with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Basically, humans suck. They are referred to by faeries as the Mud People almost constantly and at times it feels as though every other paragraph was designed to make the reader feel guilty for existing. In the faeries’ eyes, we’re stupid and cruel. We exist only to pollute the planet, murder and fight amongst ourselves. The irony of this is that the faeries are equally as bad.
In the first book alone, we see the faeries using gasoline fueled wings to fly through the sky and attempt to use a nuclear device known as a blue rinse to murder a twelve year old boy. They too are also not above fighting among themselves, as seen in the violent rivalries between goblins (who have fire magic) and dwarves (who hate fire). While I expect that his hypocrisy is entirely intentional on Colfer’s part, unfortunately it just felt too one sided. The book constantly shows the faeries’ side of things but rarely expresses the same arguments from Artemis’s point of view. I’m not usually a fan of books that point out everything to the reader but in this case, it felt like it was necessary. It would have added balance to the story and made it feel less like an all-out attack on humanity.
The characters were also a little flat. Despite being the title character, Artemis appears surprisingly infrequently and does very little by himself. While he is the brains of the operation, it’s Butler that does all of the heavy lifting and in doing so becomes far more likable than his employer. While Artemis occasionally shows remorse or childish joy, it largely comes out of left field and is gone just as quickly. I did appreciate the lengths that he went to save his family but his utter disregard for everyone else made him rather dislikeable. On more than one occasion, I found myself rooting for the faeries.
As for the faerie characters, well, I just found them to be largely unpleasant. While Holly and Foaly did have their moments, the faeries as a whole were a little too open to squabbling and being generally nasty to one another. The faerie villains of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Adventure were especially 2-dimensional. There really isn’t much motivation to their plan at all and it seemed pretty weak that two adult faeries (one of them a genius) would ultimately be far less threatening than a twelve year old boy.
Anyhow, this review is starting to get a little long so I’ll wrap it up. While the books aren’t terrible, they’re also not really anything special. The exciting plots and harmless humour make them easily accessible for pre-teen readers but they didn’t really contain any solid crossover appeal. Artemis Fowl contained flat characterisation and a distinct lack of depth. If you’re looking for a decent fantasy novel for a young adult reader, there is certainly far better out there.
Artemis Fowl can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk