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The first thing you'll hear about Holly Short is that she's the only female officer in Recon. It has a lot to do with who she is and what she wants, so we've covered it extensively in other sections (be sure to check out the "Summary" section). Here's a brief rundown of how this fits in to her character before we take a look at the other things that make her Holly.
It's not that there aren't female fairies in the entire LEP, but Recon and Retrieval are the two elite units that handle all the really dangerous, up-close stuff. Retrieval is still basically a no-girls-allowed club, but Recon is trying to change their unit, using Holly as a test case. Problem is, the higher ups think she's just a test case, and can be traded out at any time—Root himself threatens to replace her with Corporal Frond, whom Holly calls "a bimbo" and an "airhead" (3.45-46). Ugh.
Though we get the sense that Root is only saying this to push Holly to do her best, it's obvious that the stakes for being the first female officer are crazy high. Choosing someone even slightly less sharp and talented than Holly would make the test fail and women would be kept out of Recon. No pressure, though, Captain Short.
Oh wait—just kidding—tons of pressure. We're talking about an amount that would make anyone crack, but Holly takes it in stride and channels it into her work, trusting her instincts and her wits to get her through rough situations time and again.
Sure she still has to deal with the Retrieval guys, who call her "that Recon babe" (8.200), and Cudgeon, who treats her like a piece of paperwork by just calling her "the test case" (6.160)—but ultimately she's the one who manages to get her magic back while locked in a cell, mesmerize Juliet, fight the same troll twice, save Butler's life, and punch Artemis in the face. And she still makes it out with half the gold. There's no mention of her being a test case anymore at the end of the book, because we're fairly certain everyone knows she's the best officer Recon has.
Being the first female officer in Recon isn't the only thing Holly is first at. It's such a small scene, but there's a moment when Holly is riding the flares to the surface and we find out she's the "first in the Academy" (3.164) as a pilot. So not only is Holly a trailblazer, but she's also a flying ace.
She's definitely got the classically reckless personality of a pilot, so much so that Root calls her a "danger to [her]self and [her] fellow officers" (3.262). While this doesn't really sound like a positive quality—it sounds like something that gets people killed—perhaps this totally brazen nature is what makes Holly able to take on a troll alone, and what makes her the most dangerous captive Artemis could have possibly chosen.
It isn't hard to have the moral high ground around Artemis, but Holly makes some pretty solid choices based on her own internal moral compass.
When the troll attacks Butler, for example, Holly re-attacks the troll knowing full well what it can do, and then heals Butler in a part ethical/part tactical move. Plus she's the only person speaking out against the bio-bomb by the end, because no matter what Artemis and Butler did, Juliet is in the house and, as Holly says, "'a life is a life'" (9.224). This morality extends to less dramatic situations too, like when she mesmerizes Juliet to see "wrestling, twenty-four hours a day" (7.305) because it makes her happy—instead of, you know, just making her stare at a blank wall.
And we know that these moral rules aren't something that all fairies or even all elves have. Look at Cudgeon—that guy definitely needs an upgrade in the morality department—so Holly's moral code comes from somewhere else, though we're not told where in this book. Is it something she learned from family? From her training in the Academy? Or has she put it together herself over long periods of time? Perhaps future books hold the answer.
The real point is this: Holly could have taken half the gold and promised Artemis a wish, and then not fulfilled that wish. But she doesn't. After being kidnapped, shot with hypodermic darts, locked in a room and told she gave up sacred secrets, and battling a troll, Holly still goes out of her way to heal Artemis's mom's mental condition even though she has no reason to want Artemis to be happy or have a better life. In other words, Holly's tough and good at heart.