Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex
There was once an Irish boy who longed to know everything there was to know, so he read book after book until his brain swelled with astronomy, calculus, quantum physics, romantic poets, forensic science and anthropology among a hundred other subjects. But his favourite book was a slim volume which he’d never once read himself. It was an old hardback that his father often chose as a bedtime tale, entitled The Crock of Gold, which told the story of a greedy bucko who captured a leprechaun in a vain effort to steal the creature’s gold.
When the father had finished reading the last word on the last page, which was Fin, he would close the worn leather-bound cover, smile down at his son and say, ‘That boy has the right idea. A little more planning and he would have pulled it off,’ which was an unusual opinion for a father to voice. A responsible father at any rate. But this was not a typically responsible parent – this was Artemis Fowl Senior, the kingpin of one of the world’s largest criminal empires. The son was not so typical either. He was Artemis Fowl II, soon to become a formidable individual in his own right, both in the world of man and in the fairy world beneath it.
A little more planning, Artemis Junior often thought as his father kissed his forehead. Just a little more planning.
And he would fall asleep and dream of gold.
Two years since Artemis Fowl and the Time-Paradox, the titular teenage genius is back, and this time with a plan to save the world – a change from his usual various and nefarious criminal activities. The book opens in Iceland, on Artemis’ 15th birthday.
At the end of the Time Paradox, things had become hopelessly tangled and complicated (that tends to happen when timestreams are involved), especially between Holly and Artemis. What do you need after that?
A lot of it.
This a book chock-full of awesome. Here is a list.
- Butler. Does anyone else geek out over at TV Tropes? There is a whole page about AF’s crowning moments of awesome. What is great about this series (among all the other things) is that the author never allows literary snobbery to interfere with storytelling.
- The fear of cliché never stops him from writing the baddest, worstest crowning moments of funny. In fact, it’s full of CMs: CMs of awesome, funny AND heartwarming.
- Brilliant one-liners: Colfer is master of the hilarious throwaway remark. You have to read ‘em.
- The relationships: I love the interplays and by-plays between the cast: Artemis and Foaly, Mulch and Artemis, Foaly and Mulch, Holly and Butler, Artemis and Holly – there’s a real camaraderie hidden under all the quipping. And they’re a bunch of geeks shamelessly geeking out – it’s great! Geeking out is almost my professional pastime, and AF hits all my geek buttons whilst also hitting all my fangirl buttons.
- Twins: a glimpse of Artemis’ now older twin brothers, in what is the most entertaining side-story of the book.
Artemis has been on the road to reform since the Arctic Incident, when he gets his father back, but old habits die hard. In the Time Paradox, Artemis faced his past self, and this book finds him trying to deal with the consequences of the person he used to be – and making an awful mess, because when magic involves itself, nothing is simple. The story is increasingly psychologically complex: Colfer begins to address the questions of motivations and consequences, and the greyness of subjective moralities, with two completely different criminal minds.
In children’s books, it takes a kind of editorial bravery to introduce irreversible changes, things that won’t be repaired by a deus ex machina to return everything to the happily-ever-after that the reader wants – and this is new ground for the Artemis Fowl books, and I love it. Without giving too much away, what was happening in Artemis’ own head was the most complex and satisfying part of the story. I first thought the Atlantis Complex referred to…some fairy mega-corporation in Atlantis. It doesn’t.
Mental illness in children’s books can’t be easy to write authentically, and Colfer does not disrespect his reader – there is no watering down or shying away. Artemis faces it, and you, the reader, face it with him. I find this account extraordinarily nuanced and moving; as Artemis slides into severe obsessive compulsiveness, paranoia, hallucinations, and finally multiple personalities, it’s impossible not to feel a kind of cold shock. You think, ‘this can’t happen to Artemis’.
Every so often, you read a book that is utterly satisfying in almost every way – like meeting an old and dearly-missed friend after a long time. Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex right now is that book. After over a decade of Artemis in my head, I still only want more – I want to know how he’ll change. It doesn’t answer all the questions – because there will be more. Artemis will be back, and so will Holly, and that’s another book.
The great beauty of a serial with child characters is its magnified scope for evolution, where the things that have happened affect and shape what will happen, and where there are no easy answers. It takes you from a child’s tumultuous world of growing and changing into one of inconstancy and ambiguity: people do bad things for good reasons; bad things happen to good people. It’s life: complicated and multifaceted – and hopeful.
What fictional character(s) do you feel you have grown up with?
* Update because judging from the search terms, people want to know: in the webcast, Eoin categorically said that there is one final book after the Atlantis Complex. I know. My heart is breaking, too – did you hear that crack?
All quotes are taken from ‘Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex’, supplied to The Rock Pool for review by Puffin Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group.