Saturday, January 19, 2008

Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 10+

This book may be a little brutal for very young readers, I don't know. The title character is a 12-year-old criminal mastermind, from an old Irish noble family of criminals, whose father disappeared in a nasty encounter with the Russian mafia (but his son still doesn't presume him dead) and whose mother, shattered by the tragedy, seems to be going insane. For family all he really has left is his body guard—a huge muscle-bound martial-arts freak called Butler—and Butler's gung-ho kid sister Juliet. Artemis decides to rebuild his family's fortune by exploiting a source of funds no human has previously succeeded in tapping. He decides to steal fairy gold.

Step one is to get hold of the text of the Fair Folk's jealously guarded Book, which is like a fairy Bible and is practically impossible to clap mortal eyes on. But he is just devious enough, and has just the right resources, to do it.

Step two is to use what he learns to target a leprechaun to hold for ransom for a ton of gold. I mean, a literal ton of 24-carot gold in small, unmarked ingots.

Step three is to survive the fairy world's high-tech, crack police force, who will try to terminate him with extreme prejudice. This proves to be the tricky part, since the fairies have access to tunneling dwarfs, scenery-bashing trolls, blaster guns, spy cameras, a device that can stop time within a shielded area, AND a bomb called "blue rinse" that can wipe out all living things in the blast radius without damaging the architecture. Plus, the hostage, a resourceful & powerful elf cop named Holly Short, proves to be a tough customer in her own right.

There are some interesting personalities in the story, and lots of humor and action and thrills, but there are a couple things I want to caution you about. One is the moral ambiguity of the whole thing. The story has two heroes, really: Artemis Fowl and Holly Short. Holly is really more the hero type, to tell the truth. Fowl is kind of a villain, but not altogether without sympathetic characteristics. But there is a disturbing sense of amorality on both sides, and I find it hard to sympathize with either side. Maybe that's the point of the story, which makes it even more disturbing and possibly offensive; not that you recognize evil qualities in good people or good qualities in evil people, but that you don't care who's good or evil, or you don't care if either of them are good, and you just root for whoever seems coolest at the time. I think that's a demoralizing point of view.

The second problem, closely related to the first, is the cold-blooded murder, coolly contemplated by some of the leading characters. Maybe kids today are desensitized to that sort of thing, which I think is too bad. If they are sensitive about it, I wouldn't want to desensitize them. And books like this could do that. That is my caution; make up your own mind!

To visit a site for Artemis Fowl fans, click here.

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 10+

The sequel to Artemis Fowl reunites old enemies: the thirteen-year-old master criminal of the title and his Vin Diesel-like bodyguard, Butler; elf cop Holly Short and her commander, Julius Root; and Foaly, the centaur techno-geek, who works for LEP (the Lower Elements Police). Only this time, the old enemies are on the same side.

A year has passed since young Artemis did the seemingly impossible, getting away with a fortune in fairy gold. Since then he has used his ill-gotten gains to continue searching for his father, missing and presumed dead since an incident in the Gulf of Kola, off the coast of Northern Russia. Now the kidnappers have gotten in touch, and Artemis and Butler are about to attempt to rescue his father from the Mafiya who would otherwise, almost certainly, kill him.

But at the same time, down in the underground city of Haven populated by the fairy People (elves, pixies, centaurs, gnomes, dwarves, etc.), Captain Holly Short finds herself on the trail of a crime ring involving way-too-organized goblins, banned weapons, and human technology. Naturally she suspects Artemis Fowl. But when she brings him and Butler in for questioning, it turns out he's innocent. And now it seems Fowl and LEP need each other's help. So, against all odds, they agree to work together.

The real culprit—and there's no point in keeping it a secret—is a disgruntled LEP officer, conspiring with one of Foaly's technological rivals to rub out Root, take over LEP, and finally get rid of the "Mud People"—that is, the human race. Briar Cudgeon wants fairies to rule the world again, and he wants to rule the fairies.

So before they know what is really going on, Holly and Fowl and friends are cut off from Haven, harried by hit-goblins, facing unheard-of dangers, and forced to turn to another master-criminal for help. Meanwhile, LEP is surrounded by heavily-armed goblins, and powerless to defend itself... and Foaly, trapped inside his own secure laboratory, is the one everyone blames for the betrayal and the revolt. And somewhere in the frozen Arctic regions, on a rusted-out nuclear sub, Artemis Fowl Senior is being held by thugs who have no intention of letting him or his son walk away from a ransom drop.

In the spirited manner of the original book, The Arctic Incident delivers an adventure full of thrills, suspense, laugh-aloud humor, and a quirky blend of high technology and fairy-tale magic. Also, it shows our gifted young crook developing into more of a human being, though he sometimes tries to rebel against the flashes of decency that flare up within him. After all, he spends the whole book fighting crime, rather than committing it. But for you aspiring young felons out there, the criminal activities of a flatulent dwarf named Mulch will bring great satisfaction.

I enjoyed the story greatly, though I sometimes wondered whether Colfer thought he was writing a screenplay. The chapter titles were like cracked movie titles, and the text was liberally seasoned with section titles stating the location of a given passage, more like a script than a book. Nevertheless I don't have the quibble I had months and months ago when I read Artemis Fowl. I can see that the title character is developing in interesting directions. And I can also see that the characters themselves are becoming more concerned about the difference between right and wrong - and try to make up for the wrongs they have done each other.

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 10+

The third book in the adventures of teenaged master criminal Artemis Fowl begins with our hero making a tactical mistake. As a result, his faithful bodyguard Butler is seriously hurt, and a ruthless IT magnate from Chicago (with mob connections) has stolen a piece of ultra advanced technology that may leave the fairy world open to discovery. What's more, Jon Spiro (think: love-child of John Gotti and Steve Jobs) has decided to send a crack team to kidnap Artemis himself and force him to hand over the secrets of the C Cube and its "eternity code" encryption.

Enter Captain Holly Short, the first female officer in LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance), and other familiar faces from the hidden world of magical beings. With the aid of Butler's kid sister Juliet, and a kleptomaniac dwarf named Mulch, Holly and Artemis go to Spiro's skyscraper sanctum and attempt to beard the lion in his den. At stake is the security of the fairy People, the lives and safety of everyone Artemis loves, and lots and lots of money.

But even assuming they can outwit the one human who has ever outwitted Artemis Fowl... and outmuscle Spiro's goon, Blunt, who is the one "metal man" ever to outmaneuver Butler... it looks like this time, the fairies won't let Artemis and his friends get away with their fairy memories intact.

In an adventure that takes in Ireland, Chicago, and more than one sense of the word "underworld," Mr. Colfer has created a story full of intriguing twists, hilarious gags, exciting action and suspense, plus warm camraderie and cold-blooded scheming worthy of an adult thriller. But it all surrounds a teenage boy, a brilliant and charismatic but also vulnerable boy, whose criminal instincts are mixed more and more with the milk of human kindness. And besides that, the blend of high-tech gadgetry and fairy magic is simply irresistable.

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 8+

What’s with you people? When the latest Lemony Snicket book came out, I got about a SQUILLION e-mails from you, making sure that I knew about it and would have my review posted before you were done reading it! But a fourth Artemis Fowl book comes out and how do I find out? By going to Barnes & Noble and seeing it on display! How does a series this successful sneak out a new book without anyone taking notice? Is it simply that the excitement of the sixth Harry Potter book (100 days from being released, at this writing) has pushed everything else into the background?

Well, NO THANKS TO YOU (grin), I have purchased myself a hardcover (!!!) of The Opal Deception and read it as fast as possible, so you can find out what you’re missing. Then maybe you’ll snap out of your Harrypnosis, and go read something well worth a little spare hoopla. You know you want it. It has magic, high-tech action-adventure, a fiendish enemy, a boyish hero, a protective giant, a tragic death, loads of humor and suspense, and many of the creatures—like elves, centaurs, dwarves, and pixies—that cause you to live for fantasy and modern fairy tales.

In this fourth installment in the adventures of billionaire boy genius Artemis Fowl, the now-14-year-old master thief has gone back to his wicked ways after having all memory of his dealings with the Fairy Folk wiped from his mind. Unfortunately, he needs those memories badly. Because the dastardly pixie, Opal Koboi, has eluded police custody (without anyone even knowing about it!) and is gunning for all the people who foiled her previous evil plan. Now she has elf cop Holly Short, LEP commander Julius Root, centaur techno-guru Foaly, Artemis and his faithful bodyguard Butler, right where she wants them. Not only that, but she has a new face, a new crew of accomplices, and a new plan to destroy half of the fairy world and leave what is left exposed to the greed of mankind.

But enough long sentences. Holly Short shows grit. Artemis invents some mindboggling plans. A certain flatulent, kleptomaniac dwarf puts his varied talents to good use. And they do this at a time when the whole fairy world thinks they are dead—and would arrest them the instant they thought otherwise. Thrill to a death-defying dive from a hotel window. Chill to an attack by a pack of bloodthirsty trolls. Sniffle to the passing of an old friend, and cheer to the exciting, dramatic climax. But whatever you do, don’t stand behind Mulch Diggums!

Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 10+

Fourteen-year-old ex-criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl is starting to look like a total good-guy. This is a good thing, because another junior crime kingpin, or rather queenpin, is at large and starting to meddle in the affairs of the fairy folk.

The girl's name is Minerva Paradizo, and she knows too much about the timetable for momentary appearances of demons for her own good...which is to say, she knows almost as much as Artemis Fowl. When Minerva captures a demon right in front of Artemis in a crowded Italian theatre, the Fowl boy and his bodyguard Butler join forces with Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police to rescue the demon. Timing is of the essence, because the stability of the entire dimension where the demons live has begun to deteriorate, and the end of their entire race may be at hand.

The demon in question isn't really a bad guy, once you get to know him. A sensitive imp named No 1, he hasn't made the transition into adult demonhood (known as warping), even though he is well past the age. No 1 suspects that he is a warlock, a special type of demon that hasn't been seen since the demons and their island were translated into an alternate dimension, centuries ago, at the end of a war between the fairy peoples and the humans. Since then, the demon psyche has been formed by a warlike psycho named Abbot, who is hell-bent on avenging his race's grievances on mankind.

To Artemis goes the weighty task of planning No 1's escape from Minerva's clutches...then, to rescue Minerva from her hired thug, Billy Kong, who has his own psychotic grievance with demons. All Artemis's cleverness and resourcefulness must come into play as he shifts directly from saving-everybody-from-Billy-Kong mode to saving-everybody-from-Abbot.

I can't get much more specific than that, without spoiling all your fun. Go on, read the book. This series continues to be lots of fun, with gosh-wow gadgetry, new and weirder-than-ever bits of magic, humor, camaraderie, danger, suspense, and the kind of surprises that only characters with powerful personalities can bring.

Half Moon Investigations
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 12+

"Half Moon" is a cruel, schoolyard nickname for a short-for-his-age, twelve-year-old detective named Fletcher Moon. Yes, he really is a detective—sort of. He took an online course, passed an exam, even earned a certificate and an official badge...but he won’t be old enough to use it legally for another six years. Meanwhile, he tries to keep his skills sharp by solving the petty crimes and minor mysteries that happen in every school. He has even proven helpful to the police on occasion—as something between a consultant and an informant. But this hasn’t made Half Moon any more popular with the kids his age.

Suddenly, Fletcher finds himself in the middle of a perplexing mystery. It starts when a pretty girl from the popular crowd offers him real money to find her souvenir lock of a pop singer’s hair, suspected stolen by one of the kids of a local crime family. A tough kid from the same family tries to intimidate Fletcher into keeping out of their business. But he gets in deeper and deeper, drawn first by curiosity, then by his own flight from the law when someone frames him for a heinous crime. Suddenly Half Moon is on the run, partnered with the unlikeliest ally, and desperate to get to the bottom of an increasingly tangled mystery—one that could ruin his career as a detective, or even his whole life, just as both are starting to become interesting.

Here, the author of the Artemis Fowl series has started what I hope and expect will be another successful series of funny, exciting, and smart stories, outrageously translating Philip Marlowe into a small English schoolboy. It’s not as if nothing like it has been done before; after all, you have Anthony Horowitz’s Diamond Brothers books and even earlier series of boy-detective tales, such as the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. Half Moon Investigations is a bit closer to the spirit of the Diamond Brothers, with a playground-savvy take on the hardboiled genre and a willingness to laugh at its own silliness.

New mysteries are always welcome. May the next Half Moon mystery be as much fun as this one!

The Supernaturalist
by Eoin Colfer
Recommended Age: 12+

In the near future, a place called Satellite City has become the urban nightmare du jour. Everything, including the steering of individual cars, is controlled by a privately-owned satellite hanging low in the sky over town. City police, private police, and armed-and-dangerous squads of lawyers patrol the city, and “no-sponsor” orphans like Cosmo Hill are locked up in a maximum security “institute for parentally challenged boys” where they earn their keep as guinea pigs to test all kinds of products, from music videos to health-and-beauty aids. Cosmo knows that he has a slim chance of living to adulthood, and if he does, he will be sold to a labor prison on trumped-up charges. He has three choices: be adopted, die, or escape. It’s too late for door number one, so that really only leaves two...

Cosmo’s opportunity comes when a glitch in the satellite causes a gruesome accident. He barely survives the accident, and the shock of it “turns on” the ability to see supernatural creatures that seem to feed off the life-force of injured and sick people. Taken in by a small group of youngsters who have the same ability – “spotters” or “supernaturalists” as they call themselves – Cosmo barely has time to recover from his wounds before he is in the middle of a war against energy-eating creepy-crawlies on the one hand, and lethal lawyers, corporate security guards, hoodlums, and ninja paralegals on the other. And suddenly a 14-year-old orphan who has never had a chance to be an individual, finds himself pulling off heroics, battling monsters, saving the innocent, walking in space, defying death, overcoming his worst fears, uncovering betrayal, and getting to the bottom of a fiendish plot.

Oh yeah, he also kisses a girl.

Not bad for a first taste of freedom. I’ll bet there will be more adventures to follow, engagingly narrated with a mix of high-tech wizardry and apocalyptic paranoia by the creator of the Artemis Fowl series.

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