There’s nothing like realising that one of your childhood favourites is celebrating its 20th birthday. Talk about being forced to come face-to-face with your rapid aging! I decided to make life even harder by actually rereading the book that I first read 2 decades ago. I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while actually. I had plans to read it last year before the film adaptation came out. But I didn’t. Then I was going to read it after the film came out so I would be able to compare the two. That never happened either. I think it probably worked out for the best as it means that I can read the first book in Eoin Colfer’s series and watch the Disney+ adaptation during the anniversary year.
When it was first released 20 years ago, Artemis Fowl was described by some as the “new Harry Potter”. Even though this is probably what encouraged me to read it back in 2001, it’s not the most helpful of comparisons. Yes, both books introduce us to a hidden fantasy world that has a difficult past with humans. Yes, the protagonist is a young boy. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. It’s just another example of reductive literary criticism that will, no doubt, have turned more people off Eoin Colfer’s book than it deserved. For one thing, Artemis Fowl is no Harry Potter. The latter is an orphan with a hero complex who whines a lot while he saves the world. Artemis Fowl is a genius supervillain who goes to great lengths to prove how evil he is. Both are annoying in their own way but also interesting characters to get to know.
Really, if you wanted to compare Artemis Fowl to anything, you’d be better off comparing it to one of those cliched action movies. Saying it’s the YA Fantasy version of Die Hard would be much more accurate. The book has so much fun in falling back on the old favourites. We’ve got tired senior officers heading back into the field to save a rookie, the second-in-command who is looking for a leg up the corporate ladder, the eccentric tech guy, and the mob family at the heart of the trouble. The fact that Colfer relies on these familiar tropes isn’t evidence of bad writing but quite the opposite. This book did things that other fantasy writers weren’t doing at that time. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if James Bond was set in a fantasy world, then this is the book for you.
The fairies that we meet in this book aren’t the sweet little winged creatures we’re used to. Having moved underground to escape humanity, the magical world runs on technology. Captain Holly Short, an elf, has to rely on mechanical wings to fly and uses GPS to get around. Holly is a member of LEPrecon, a branch of the Lower Elements Police. She’s the first female in the position and there’s a lot of pressure on her shoulders. So, getting kidnapped by a human boy won’t exactly help her stand out for the right reasons. That boy is Artemis Fowl, the sole heir of a crime family. His father went missing years before and his family fortune was lost. Kidnapping Holly is the first step in his plan to get that fortune back but can he really outwit these magical creatures?
Colfer’s story is original and a lot of fun. He introduces readers to his magical world in an organic and readable way. We learn enough about the world without being drowned in endless facts. He explains the context without the need for clunky exposition. This is a very engaging book that will be perfect for younger readers. The mixture of the fantasy and technology elements really creates an exciting world and the obvious signposting of the sequel won’t upset anyone. The first book is a brilliant action/heist movie and the obvious set-up for future books is merely a sign of more good things to come.
Is it a fairly simple premise and world? Yeah, the rules of the fairy world are pretty simplistic and Colfer definitely didn’t set out to tear up the rule book. However, it didn’t need to do anything too drastic. This still feels so original and fresh. It brings in elements from multiple different genres and adds extra depth to the fantasy genre. It also introduces several interesting and important topics. The story briefly touches upon mental health thanks to Artemis’ mother. Okay, it doesn’t make a big deal out of it and, again, it’s very simple, but it wasn’t meant to draw focus. There’s also an environmental element to this. The magical creatures in the novel are critical of the way that humans are treating the Earth. The book raises issues over pollution and whaling boats during the narrative. To say this book was released in 2001, there are topics here that are still relevant to this day.
If I had one issue with the story, it would have to be the pacing. It’s kind of all over the place. Some of the important early scenes feel rushed and could have done with more attention. For example, Captain Short comes face-to-face with a troll that has escaped to the surface world. There is a lot of build-up to it but then the actual showdown is fairly brief. On the other hand, the end of the books just goes on forever. I don’t there’s any surprise about where this book will end up, so it kind of feels like we’re dragging out the inevitable for a bit. Still, this remains a fantastic reading experience and one that still holds up after all this time. I’m glad that I got to read this when I was younger. It’s really perfect for younger readers. There’s a great mix of silliness and childish humour alongside the more serious elements. It’s a very clever book indeed. Although considering who the title character is, it needed to be.