I judge books by their covers. Not afraid to admit it. It’s unfortunate, but I do. I bet you do too. Say you’re in a bookstore, and you spot a cool, modern, eye-catching cover. Obviously, you’re gonna pick up that book first! At least, I would. My brain immediately goes into overdrive trying to figure out what’s depicted in the illustration.
All of which is to say that I wasn’t terribly excited to pick up Artemis Fowl. As you can see, there’s nothing super-graphic on the cover to entice me to read the story.
Compared to some of the more richly detailed book covers out there, it didn’t make me wonder, “Hmm, I wonder what that’s all about!” BUT(cliche warning!) it looks like the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been around in some form or another since the 1st century AD for a reason — namely, because you shouldn’t.
Penned by Irishman Eoin “It’s Pronounced Owen” Colfer, the Artemis Fowl series tracks the exploits of its titular character — a 12-year-old, self-styled evil genius. In the first book, Artemis seeks to restore the lost family fortune through less-than-legally-sound means. In this case, that involves trying to steal some fairy gold. See, it turns out that fairies, dwarves, trolls, goblins, etc. are real and have been living underground for years. I kinda rolled my eyes when I got to that bit of exposition in the book, ’cause the whole magical-creatures-are-hiding-in-plain-sight thing has been done pretty close to death recently (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Twilight being among the more notable examples). But Colfer pulls it off well enough. He’s not as good at it as J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan, but it never gets in the way of the story.
And what a story! Beyond cursory introductions to the fairy world and Artemis’ family history, there isn’t much in the way of background info, but you won’t miss it — the plot is quick, clever, and exciting. In a nutshell, Artemis cooks up an elaborate plot to find and acquire some of that famous fairy treasure, and things just go nuts from there. At the risk of sounding like a movie poster for a bad summer action movie, you get a front-row seat to a great battle of wits, technology, and magic (in other words “IT’S A ROLLER COASTER RIDE OF EXCITEMENT!!!!!”).
Artemis is a really clever and devious anti-hero, and his fairy rivals have some pretty cool gadgets/powers at their disposal. One of the things I appreciated about the story was its moral ambiguity: Artemis is motivated mostly by greed, and the fairies are mostly concerned with hanging onto their cash, rather than Doing Good or Upholding Truth. Still, both sides have moments where they rise above their baser instincts, and when they do, that nobility is all the more meaningful for having come from imperfect people (er, creatures). This is a level of emotional complexity that a lot of authors are afraid to tackle, and Mr. Colfer deserves some recognition for refusing to create a world that’s neatly divided into good and evil.
But enough of my yakkin’! Basically, Artemis Fowl is a lot of fun and you should read it. Look for a review of the graphic novel version of the series and possibly some trivia in the near future.
— Jack, STACKS Staffer