Children's fantasy novel written by Eoin Colfer, tipped by publishing insiders to be the Next Big Thing and the answer to That Other Fantasy Series. Soon To Become a Major Motion Picture Event, etc. The eponymous protagonist is a twelve-year-old Irish boy and the world's greatest criminal mastermind. In this, the first book in a heavily foreshadowed series, his object is kidnapping a member of the fairy kingdom's elite security forces and holding her for ransom. The action plays out almost exactly like a cross between a Die Hard and a Tom Clancy thriller, only written for ten-year-olds and featuring a lot of magical creatures that seem to be written with action figures in mind. Artemis, ostensibly the hero of the book, is always at least one step ahead of the bumbling fairy security forces, who work just like the LAPD and FBI in the first Die Hard. The book's hook is that we are supposed to be rooting for the bad guy, but personally I found it hard to root for Artemis, for two reasons:

A - the kid is a spoiled billionaire genius who gets absolutely everything he wants, even if he has to bribe, poison or drug people into giving it to him. He's a fairly nasty character.

B - there's no thrill at all in seeing the hero's flawless plan fall into place. He works by the numbers, manipulating his opponents' rulebooks, and everything goes perfectly. I've never found plots like this interesting. Where's the suspense?

Artemis Fowl, a children's book by Eoin Colfer, is the first of what is to be a series of books featuring the child criminal/genius of the same name. Picture this: Artemis, who's been born into a family with a less-than-honorable legacy of crime, wishes to regain some of the money that his family has lost. At this point in his life, his father is missing and his mother has withdrawn into a depressive shell, leaving him pretty much on his own to do whatever he wishes. He is protected by his bodyguard and friend, Butler, whose family has served Artemis's family for generations. With a protector who would do anything for him, a large amount of money at his disposal, and the highest rated IQ in Europe, Artemis is a force to be reckoned with. And he's set his sights on an unlikely source of money: The gold owned by the fairies.

Most people in Artemis's world don't think fairies exist, of course, but Artemis believes they do, and knows certain things about them. He manages to locate a real fairy who lives in the human world posing as a fortune-teller, and he cruelly poisons her and offers the antidote if she will allow him a peek at her Book. "The Booke of the People" is something that every fairy has, and no human has ever seen one. He manages not only to see it, but to scan every page into his computer and later decode it. At this point he is armed with more knowledge about "the People" than any human on Earth. He begins to formulate a plan to steal gold from them by kidnapping a fairy and demanding a ransom.

It's not as simple as all that. Surprise! The fairies have been busy since all the fairy tales have been written. As far as technology goes, they've more or less surpassed humans over the years, plus they have magic at their disposal. They are civilized and organized and actually behave quite a bit like humans, though of course they detest humans (or "Mud Men," as they call them). So Artemis may have inside information about the People, but he underestimates what he is up against.

Fairies have to complete "the Ritual" every so often to replenish their magic. This can only be accomplished in certain conditions, and there are a finite number of places where the Ritual can be done. So, Artemis's plan is to hide out, with Butler, and keep surveillance on one of these special sites. It is in this way that he hopes to kidnap one of the elusive fairies. But Captain Holly Short isn't exactly a pushover...she's a Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance officer, or LEP-recon for short. Unfortunately for both of them, Artemis successfully abducts her.

And the story begins. Holly has the entire Lower Elements Police trying to rescue her, armed with the technology created by a brilliant centaur. Artemis has his own brain to formulate the plans and his loyal manservant to help execute them, and the plot becomes a large jumble of negotiation and action; the fairy police trying to get Holly back without giving the Mud Boy anything, Artemis just trying to steal their gold and leave without a trace.

Occasionally some of the dialogue and narration in this book is a little flat, but mostly the characters are fairly vibrant and have their own idiosyncratic personalities. An especially interesting thing about this book, though, is the fact that at one point the reader is given a chance to decode the fairy book like Artemis did, and when the code is broken, a whole different story can be translated and read along the bottoms of the pages of the book! This other story is mostly the account of Ohm, a fairy who specializes in doing divination by reading phlegm. Artemis Fowl's coming is foretold in Ohm's strange mucous prophecy.

This book comes highly recommended because of its unusual combination of fantasy and technology, its colorful characters, its irreverence, its interesting (though not necessarily likable) protagonist, and its simple recognition of the fact that if fairies existed in this way, it's likely that their society would have advanced too. The plot is a bit convoluted for most young children to be able to follow, but it is worth a shot, and is suggested for adult readers as well, who might be delighted by the book's refreshing perspective.

If you liked this book, read the next ones in the series: Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony, and Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, as well as the companion volume The Artemis Fowl Files.

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