Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl (Scholastic, 2001)

Artemis Fowl is 12 years old, and even worse, he's a criminal mastermind. A supergenius along the lines of Moriarty or Lex Luthor, he's the latest in a long and notorious line of Fowls; the Fowls of Ireland are legendary in the international underworld of crime.  Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl Sr. recently perished in an explosion while pursuing his criminal lifestyle, and with him perished much of the family fortune.

Young Artemis has a plan to restore the family wealth, and it involves the Fey. Artemis has learned of the existence of fairies from, of all places, the Internet. He discovers that fairies have access to an unlimited supply of gold, and he decides to kidnap a fairy and demand ransom: a mere ton of 24-carat gold. With his trusty bodyguard Butler (Butlers have been serving Fowls for centuries) Fowl journeys far and wide to find a fairy who will give up the secrets of the Book. Every fairy carries a Book which contains the secrets of the fairy world, including how a fairy can be captured.

After he obtains a copy of the Book, Artemis sets out to decipher its secrets and kidnap his fairy. Actually, he kidnaps an elf. Not just any elf, mind you, but Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance. Yes, she's a LEPrecon, and she's a resourceful sort.  Along with her gruff superior Commander Root, gadgets guru (yes, the Fey have incredible technology) Foaly, and a dwarf called Mulch, Holly will prove to young Artemis that even a criminal mastermind is no match for the Fey.

This is really a charming little novel, and I was very impressed. Eoin Colfer does some fantasticly creative things to the traditional legends.  I was personally unaware of the theory that fairies evolved from pterodactyls...and don't even ask me why dwarves are such good miners.  Colfer's wildly imaginative mix of magic and technology is wonderfully silly and I found myself giggling several times at his witty inventiveness. Wait until you find out how fairies really fly...

As a children's book, Artemis Fowl is written in a fairly simple style, but the characters have enough depth to hold an adult's attention, and the plot is unique, to say the least. There's a tad bit of toilet humor; though it's not particularly offensive, it is quite funny, and it definitely adds to the story. The intrigue and maneuverings are excellently done, with the advantage in the battle switching frequently and unexpectedly between Artemis and his Fey opponents. I was honestly surprised by the ending of the story -- with each side gaining and losing the upper hand several times, Colfer managed to avoid telegraphing any part of the ending, even though the clues are all right there in plain sight.

Artemis Fowl is a great book for children, but adults should enjoy it as well. I certainly did. Just search the shelves for the sparkly gold cover and you can have your own little Book of Magic.

[Maria Nutick]