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Artemis Fowl    by Eoin Colfer order for
Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Artemis Fowl appears on the scene at the dawn of the 21st century. He's a twelve year old mastermind from a long line of legendary Irish criminals. Just think of an amoral young Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps it should be a pre-teen Moriarty. Artemis has been running his own life since his father disappeared after an explosive encounter with the Russian Mafia; his mother has lived in a fantasy world, punctuated by fits of raving lunacy, ever since. So Artemis has been free to pursue his own goals, with the assistance of Butler, very large and very well trained by the Israelis (Butler's family has served the Fowls for centuries).

Artemis is after fairy gold to restore the family fortunes. He has a 'plan that could topple civilizations and plunge the planet into a cross-species war.' The action starts in Ho Chi Minh city where Artemis and Butler track down and trick a drunken sprite, whose Book they copy, with a digital camera, no less (this entire tale is a marvellous mix of technology and myth). After figuring out that the pages need to be read in spirals, our young anti-hero translates the book of fairy secrets, thus gaining the information needed to do what he does best, 'plot dastardly acts'.

His opposition, Colfer's fairies, are just as unusual as the story's protagonist. They are a sophisticated high-tech race who consider humans to be depraved and barbarian 'Mud People'. They have retreated from human expansion throughout the world to live near the Earth's Core. Holly Short is a Leprechaun, actually an elf and the first female member of the Lower Elements Police (LEP) Recon Unit. Her commander, Root, sends her on a mission topside to deal with a rogue troll, about to commit mayhem (and thus reveal the secret of her people's existence) on the surface. After dealing with the monster, Holly flies over to Ireland to recharge her magic and there falls into Artemis' trap.

When LEP Retrieval commandos are sent to Fowl Manor to rescue Holly, the fun truly begins. It includes my favorite character, a kleptomaniac dwarf skilled at 'digging and entering'; a time stop; another appearance by the troll; and a bio-bomb. This first of the series is a wild romp of action in an imaginative fantasy (at least I hope so) world, but what I really appreciated in it was the balance between the two sides. Neither is entirely good (especially Artemis himself) nor entirely evil. This makes the story much more like real life than most modern fantasy, which tends to be patterned after Tolkien's Lord of the Rings battle against an ultimate evil.

Artemis Fowl is a stupendous read for all ages, pre-teens to adults, with potential for even more fun in future episodes. It's making big waves (presumably the lava variety) already. Any reader who approximates Artemis' skills is challenged to crack the code in the book, for a chance at prizes and an appearance in the upcoming movie - I can't wait to see Mulch's backwards missile in full living color!

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