by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl Introduction
In A Nutshell
That's what Eoin Colfer thinks about Artemis Fowl, and he should know—he's the guy who wrote the book, after all, and the seven books that come after it in the series. Published in 2001, the novel is Ender's Game meets Tomb Raider meets a mythological soup of sprites, goblins, dwarfs, elves, and trolls.
The story goes like this: pre-teen Artemis Fowl II plans to restore his family's billions by kidnapping a fairy and holding her for ransom, which he does by generally being smarter and more criminally-minded than everyone else. His plans get derailed by the fairy authorities though, who prove to be equally ruthless in dealing with dangerous "Mud People" (humans), forcing Artemis to do some quick thinking if he wants to escape a devastating bomb and walk away with his life and the fairies' gold.
Sound a little gritty and amoral for a book aimed at readers ages eight and up? Certain critics thought so too, even though most of the reviews were positive. It was a bestseller on the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today lists and has won numerous awards in both the U.S. and U.K. (including the one where it was declared Irish Book of the Decade in 2010).
Colfer partly credits the release of the first four Harry Potter books with the success of his own because they made people want to read young adult fiction again (check out the "Best of the Web" section for more on this), but the lasting appeal of his novel doesn't really need the help. Heck—Disney even snatched up the movie rights.
Why Should I Care?
Now, some of the novel's critics thought this was exactly the book's problem (we're looking at you, USA Today)—what they're missing though, is that this is exactly what makes the novel such an interesting read.
Every so often in literature we get a protagonist who is known as a Byronic hero: a moody, aloof, and usually friendless character. The most popular version now is the "bad boy" character we love for all of his rough-edged qualities (Wolverine from X-Men, anyone?). Artemis Fowl is brilliant, ruthless, and oozing with condescension, but he also has one of the crucial qualities of a Byronic hero: the ability to form deep, affectionate connections to the few people he can actually stand.
There are a few tender scenes with Artemis and his mom, plus the kid ends up returning half the gold he wins in exchange for her mind being healed, even though he knows this will cramp his criminal style. So though the epilogue openly tells us not to romanticize Artemis for these fleeting moments of kindness, we sort of can't help it—he's a classic literary character transformed into a 21st-century pre-teen genius, the ultimate bad boy for the junior high set.