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Friday, January 31, 2014

Artemis Fowl: From "Die Hard with Fairies" to Landmark Series

Just as Gotham Central is described by many as "Law and Order, but with Batman," Artemis Fowl isdescribed by its author, Eoin Colfer, as "Die Hard with fairies." It is a landmark in children's literature, up there with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Redwall, and Warriors. This science fiction urban fantasy adventure series chronicles the exploits of Artemis Fowl II, a teenage criminal mastermind (though technically, he's only a preteen in the first book, at the ripe old age of 12) and his friends, enemies, and enemies who become his friends. The series kicks off with him and his bodyguard Butler kidnapping L.E.P. Recon Captain Holly Short, and holding her for a ransom in gold from her fairy brethren. The battle quickly escalates, with weapons, magic, and monsters being thrown into the mix. Add in Mulch Diggums, Foaly, Commander Root, Juliet Butler, Opal Koboi, Trouble Kelp, and a bunch of other memorable characters, and you've got a superb cast in a... mostly superb series.

Why do I say "mostly"? We'll get to that in a minute, but first, let me give the series credit where credit is due and sing its praises. Throughout the course of this series, Artemis, Holly, Mulch, and all the rest actually grow as characters, exhibiting some of the rawest, most heartfelt emotion I've ever read. (I have yet to read the climactic conclusion to the series, that is, the eighth and final book, The Last Guardian, though I do own it. I just haven't been able to read it (Don't worry, I'll get to it!) so as to fully understand Artemis's complete arc, but I digress). Artemis doesn't just stay an arrogant, heartless thief. No, he becomes empathetic, noble, self-sacrificial, and even heroic. Likewise, Holly starts out as a brash hot-shot, but matures into a tough but valiant young woman. Mulch goes from a greedy thief to a selfless and loyal friend. I could go on, but a detailed analysis of the character developments of the other characters would be too long of an article. That said, I really like where Butler, Foaly, and Commander Root went in this series.

The best thing about this series, however, is not that it's particularly clever, though it does grow into a clever series, but that it gets kids to think. Kudos from a certain troper over at for point this out, but in hindsight, I realize that my love of complex, smart stories with equally complex and smart characters is rooted back in Artemis Fowl. Everything bit of research that Colfer did (even if he did flub up when he was discussing mob slang in The Eternity Code) adds to the fun, cool mood he strives to set. Everything I like about literary devices such as criminal organizations, guns, crime, heists, plans, and what-not goes back to here. My stories are directly inspired by certain aspects of these books, that is, a blending of the normal and the fantastic into something incredible. This drops off in later books, but we'll get to the series's decline later.

And remember what I said about there being here some of the rawest emotion I've ever read? I did not lie. From the opening scene in the first book in Saigon to the last scene I read with Mulch and Butler in Atlantis in The Atlantis Complex, the series is dripping with emotion and life that transcends the pages and letters. The emotional peak of the series, I believe, is The Opal Deception (easily my favorite book in the series, though I haven't read The Last Guardian yet), where everything has gone to Hades, the bad gal is winning, Holly and Artemis are about to be killed and eaten by trolls, and then... Oh, but that would be spoiling it now, wouldn't it? You can just feel what the characters feel. The greed. The hope. The desperation. The grimness. The sacrifice. The hardship. The camaraderie. The adventure. The coolness. The love. It's all on display, and it's wonderful to read. My favorite character is Butler, though Artemis is a close second, and Holly a close third. Butler is just so badbutt, so cool and collected, the voice of reason in a chaotic, frenetic world. He's just a really awesome character.

There are eight books in this series: Artemis Fowl, The Arctic Incident, The Eternity Code, The Opal Deception, The Lost Colony, The Time Paradox, The Atlantis Complex, and The Last Guardian. As you can see, the naming follows the tired and true (that's not a misprint: tired as in sleepy) tradition of titling a work with a adjective describing a noun. But anyway, there are also a few other books related to the series: The Secret Files of Artemis Fowl and a series of graphic novels based on the books. The former is a fine addition to the series, released in between The Eternity Code and The Opal Deception. It contains some nice extras to the series and two stand-alone stories in the series. The graphic novel series, on the other hand... Let's just say that I have mixed feelings about them. Granted, the graphic novel version of Artemis Fowl was what got me into the series, having read it before reading the actual book, and The Arctic Incident: The Graphic Novel was decent, but this third one is something which I'll be covering in a review post, where I will describe in detail my feelings about the graphic novels. It's one of the things that contributed to the series being only mostly superb. Speaking of which...

As sad as it is to say, the Artemis Fowl series has been in a steady decline ever since The Opal Deception, the aforementioned high point of the series. I don't really know why. Maybe Eoin Colfer got Frank Miller Syndrome, except if that happened, whatever he wrote would be complete garbage. Most of the stuff Colfer has written since The Opal Deception is serviceable. (Case in point, The Lost Colony.) In addition to spotty characterizations, ignorance of previously established continuity, and shoddy world building, Colfer seems to have descended into less-than-clever, less-than-thought-provoking stories. One denizen of the internet said that The Time Paradox read like a well written fan fiction (this is mainly because of a certain plot point which will be immediately apparent to those who read it). Meanwhile, I believe that The Atlantis Complex was a great disappointment, failing to properly capitalize on the ramifications of the previous book (the same aforementioned plot point). The Atlantis Complex's main error, however, is that Colfer was commissioned to write And Another Thing, an addition to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Why is this relevant to The Atlantis Complex? Because Colfer's whole writing style has changed, making a joke every other line, telling the story with an uncharacteristic joviality. Granted, his narration was snarky before, but now it's just clownish. Orion was mildly entertaining in that book (though I'm told that some found him utterly hilarious), and I did like him, but combined with the clownish writing, it's just too much.

And that's all without all the questions that are spawned while reading Colfer! Why did No.1 turn from winy snarker to naive child? What on Earth happened to Minerva? Have Holly and Artemis had that "long talk" that they mentioned in The Atlantis Complex? In The Time Paradox, why is a story which is taking eight years in the past, presumably before 2001, using modern technology? Why do Artemis and Trouble Kelp have a "historic dislike for each other"? Have they ever even had a conversation up to that point? And why does Colfer keep harping on about global warming? Doesn't he know it's supposed to be climate change now? (On a note of irony, I realized just now that Artemis meets with various fairy leaders at the beginning of The Atlantis Complex to discuss global warming while in Iceland.)

But despite its flaws, Artemis Fowl is a franchise that you do not want to miss. You parents out there, your kids will love it. Heck, even you might love it. It really shows, especially in the earlier books, that Eoin Colfer's writing style has immensely improved. It went from being like RoboCop to being all of its own thing.  Meanwhile, there is actually a movie based on this series currently emerging from development Hades, the books are all available as audiobooks for you auditory people, and there's the graphic novels for you comic book-only people. Mind you though, the graphic novels are of no compare to the original books, trust me. The books themselves I recommend to readers twelve and up.

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