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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Before we begin, I just want to get this out of the way: I have read the book and still don't have a single clue about who this "last guardian" is. Is it Bruin Fadda? Artemis Fowl himself maybe? Heck, even Butler or Holly could have been it. I just don't know.

The final installment of the acclaimed Artemis Fowl series, Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian tells of our heroes' final battle against Opal Koboi, swiftly resolves the plot of the previous book, and that's about it. It's also nothing like what Colfer said it would be like. According to one interview, Colfer said that this book would be about Artemis having to choose between doing the right thing or obtaining a suitcase with a million dollars in it, and in the end, he'd choose to do the right thing. Artemis does do the right thing, but he's been doing the right thing since The Lost Colony, so what's new, Mr. Colfer? And where's the suitcase?

What's the actual plot of this novel? Basically, way back in the day, this elven warlock named Bruin Fadda used black magic to put in place a magical curse meant to destroy all humans should it be unlocked by some powerful fairy. It's a bit involved, going back to when fairies and humans were at war on the Earth's surface. in the present, Opal Koboi tricks the heroes into releasing her, and now she's on the loose with a bunch of zombie-fairy-ghost-pirates in tow, trying to unlock Fadda's curse to wipe out all of humanity so that she'll become queen of the fairies. Artemis, Holly, and Butler, and later Mulch, have to stop her, as the ghost-fairies have also possessed Artemis' brothers and Butler's sister.

Believe it or not, it's not nearly as stupid as it sounds. It is Artemis Fowl, after all.

As much as I like to bash Eoin Colfer for losing his edge in the more recent Artemis Fowl books, I've got to say that his style has really matured over the years. A brief perusal of the first book, Artemis Fowl, published in 2001, really demonstrated that. In hindsight, Artemis Fowl reads like a cross between RoboCop, National Geographic, and a Microsoft commercial. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian flows smoother, possesses all of the great emotion that makes Colfer's books so great, and tells a great story. It has its flaws, but it's still really, really good.

It's actually rather fitting that Colfer's style has matured as the character of Artemis has matured. Gone is the self-absorbed, greedy, lying thief. What we have here is a fine young man who, while imperfect, is selfless, considerate, charitable, loving, even heroic. He strives tirelessly to do good, and his friends with him. Holly and Butler haven't changed quite as much since 2001, but in the areas they have changed, it's pretty darn significant. Holly is a decidedly more level-headed, mature young... elf. Butler, while still steadfastly loyal to Artemis, has settled into his role as the voice of reason in their little band. I wish they had done more with Butler's brief expression of pent-up frustration. If Colfer would only capitalize on those rare moments of brilliance, we might have a genuinely great book, but more on that later.

And then there's Mulch.

Mulch Diggums, a dwarf thief first introduced in Artemis Fowl as a boxed crook, went, like Artemis, from self-centered criminal to irrepressible private investigator. And now... he's a criminal again. To be truthful, Mulch hasn't been wearing the private eye hat since The Lost Colony, but we saw him in The Time Paradox, which mostly took place eight years in the past, and we saw him again in The Atlantis Complex as cowboy-like swashbuckler who liked to hang around with criminals and didn't even mention his private eye business. And now, he's a criminal again. Why? Because, apparently, he likes being a criminal better.

This is highly out of character for Mulch. Back in The Lost Colony, there was a lot of text devoted to explaining why Mulch had decided to go straight, namely because someone who Mulch respected had been murdered by the main villain in the previous book. That Mulch would forget so easily why he had decided to embrace lawfulness just doesn't ring true to me. That he would turn his back on that ideal and go back to his old ways, an idea that he considered disrespectful to the memory of Mr. Dead Guy (you Fowl fans know who I'm talking about), makes no sense at all. And yet, here he is, setting up to rob our hero's house. What really galls me about this plot point is that it not only further illustrates how lazy and sloppy Colfer's writing has gotten, but that he did it with one of his most beloved and memorable characters. It's pathetic, sad, and totally unnecessary. At least Mulch ends the book as a good guy, but what happens after that? We'll talk about that in a minute.

Getting back to what Colfer got right, if there's one thing that he can still do, it's make everything seem absolutely hopeless for our heroes. He really knows how to raise the stakes, get the reader's attention, and make you feel for the characters. All other things aside, you will read this book and not want to put it down. I remember reading this book, desperately thinking, "There's still a few pages left... they're going to survive... I already had it spoiled for me so I know how it ends..." That's exactly the sort of feeling that any good book should inspire in the reader, and at that, Colfer remains a master.

But nevertheless, this book has its flaws, and there are many. Aside from my issues with the characterization of Mulch, Colfer's style, while having matured and developed heavily over the years, still reeks of one principal fault that was present in the last book: He still writes like he's trying to ape Douglas Adams. For the uninitiated, Colfer was assigned to write the sixth book for Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, titled And Another Thing. Ever since then, and my dear friend Nate agrees with me, Colfer's writing has never been the same. Every other line is a joke is some kind, and absurdism is rampant. Artemis Fowl was never supposed to be asbsurdist. It's supposed to be an urban fantasy crime story, for heaven's sake! Humor is a big part of it, but it was never the overlying premise. Whatever happened to "Die Hard with fairies"?

The other major problem with this book is that it doesn't have a particularly satisfying conclusion. It felt like Colfer was rushing it because he had a word or page limit. Colfer ends the book without resolving the major plot points or addressing significant storyline issues. How are Artemis' parents going to react to all of this? What will be the result of the romantic tension between Artemis and Holly? What was their "long talk" like? Butler is finished as a bodyguard, so what will he be doing now? Is Juliet going to get more character development? Whatever happened to Doodah Day? Will Colfer finally realize that the fans were tired of Opal Koboi after The Opal Deception? Will Jason Statham be cast as Butler in the Artemis Fowl movie?

I kid, I kid, but still, I have issues with this book. I am willing to forgive them all, however, for the sake of one little nugget that Colfer snuck in. In this book, Colfer writes that Commander Trouble Kelp got together with Lily Frond. To others, this is a seemingly innocuous throwaway joke. To me, it is a source of supreme hilarity which made laugh so, so hard when I read the line. Why? Because that is exactly what happened in a certain well written yet admittedly inappropriate Artemis Fowl fanfic which will not be named here. If someone told me that Colfer actually stumbled upon this fanfic and said, "Hey! That's not a bad idea!" and went with it, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. That element alone would be enough for me to approve of this book.

In the end, Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian is a deeply flawed book. It is, however, better than The Atlantis Complex. It isn't half as good as the first four books, or one third as good as The Opal Deception. But it is the last book, and it deserves recognition for that, if nothing else. Is it a great book? No. Is it a good book? Yes. Is it a good Artemis Fowl book? I'd say yes. For all it's faults, Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian still manages to pull off the signature Fowl caper, even without the exotic locations, a cool, interesting new villain, or resolved plot points. It may not be the best, but it's definitely not the worst either. Still better than the graphic novels. But I still don't know who this "last guardian" is.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image courtesy of goodreads.com