Friday, September 19, 2008

Review - Artemis Fowl (book 1)

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, Book 1) Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

I first saw this on a shelf a couple years back and was intrigued by it but hadn't picked it up to read it until my 8 year old insisted that it was an awesome story and that I'd love it. So, with him continually asking how I liked it, I read Artemis Fowl.

When asked by my wife about the plot, my best quick answer was that it is sort of an "evil Richie Rich carrying out a dastardly scheme against the world of fairies." (For those unfamiliar with Richie Rich, he's the super rich kid with tons of fun gadgets and crazy adventures to save his family/friends/world). In this case, the rich kid is 12-year-old Artemis Fowl, and his motives are less altruistic.


The writing was well done. It was written very simply and straightforward which was good considering the audience. It was something that a young reader could pick up and push through without getting bogged down by the language. The writing and dialog was natural and flowed well. Overall, very nice.

I have only 2 gripes about the writing itself:
  1. * Numerical consistency. Specifically, the phrasing "[something happened:] in as many [amount of time:]." You've likely heard this phrase before...along the lines of "He fell on his butt three times in as many seconds." Which means he fell on his butt 3 times in 3 seconds. Colfer uses this phrasing enough that it got distracting to me, especially the times when he used it without a good frame of reference or without numbers. I don't have the text with me to provide an exact example...but the memory I have is something like "he passed out again in as many minutes." The numerical reference "again" isn't really concrete (can be alluded to as it being 2 since it's the second time) and the timeframe mentioned didn't fit based on everything that happened in between.

  2. * Swearing. This is a book presumably for an audience of young kids. Through the first ~2/3 of the book, the author introduced a fairy swear word and used it a handful of times. The word itself is meaningless and the reference to it as a swear word was subtle and probably lost on young children. However, as the book reaches its climax and the bodyguard Butler is having a big fight with a troll (sorry, possible spoiler there), we end up with (to use my first gripe) a handful of swear words in as many pages. I didn't count the words, but there were enough that I took notice. I acknowledge that many young kids will at least hear these words from television, possibly the radio, and possibly from their parents. However, as a parent who doesn't condone swearing, it wasn't something I appreciated.


Many of the characters in this book were fairly static and/or stereotypical representations. Being a children's book, that's probably for the best since it makes it easier for kids to picture the characters and not have to deal with too much psychology as the characters change and struggle.

Artemis Fowl himself was surprising flat for a title character. Through most of the book he was a little too rigid and uniform. He was too "textbook supervillain." Which made one of his actions at the end of the book very unpredictable and unnatural. I thought it was a good addition, but it didn't fit with the lack of growth and development he had through the rest of the book. I also felt a little cheated that his only real goal in this plot was that of greed. He tried to make himself out to be a 'higher class of villain', but in the end, he was really a petty crook/kidnapper just with a bigger scale scheme.

The rest of the characters were interesting, but fairly flat. Captain Short was the character I felt had the most depth. We get depths into her psyche throughout the book and get to see her struggling with decisions and with deeper questions. Butler gains a little depth late in the story when he ignores Artemis for a minute to help his sister first. Root, Foaly and the other fairy creatures have interesting banter going on, but are largely a faceless police force trying to save the day.


The plot was a lot of fun. There were a lot of great details and exploration of the interaction between the fairy and human worlds. Fowl's plot was thin in motive but fun in execution. The details of the fairy recon team and the various technologies and magic made for a lot of entertainment.

The pacing was well done. The writing style provoked a little time confusion when interweaving the same instance from different points of view without really announcing the change other than via a double space on the paragraph break. Still, the writing generally allowed for quick reorientation as the reader encountered deja vu on reading about the same thing happening again.


Overall, I enjoyed Colfer's unimaginative tale and found it a fun and enjoyable read. One of the violent fight scenes (the main one) and a handful of (human) swear words, make me a little uneasy about letting my kids read the rest of the series unsupervised (historically, series books tend to get grittier as they go on), but I'm definitely willing, and in fact intrigued enough, to pick up book two and read it myself and then possibly hand it on to my kids.

With so many similar books flooding the market lately, I don't see this necessarily becoming a classic to endure for decades or beyond. But it's worth picking up and taking a glance at for a bit of escapism and it's a fun adventure that kids will enjoy as well.

3 stars

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