Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reading what the students read: Artemis Fowl

Today for "Reading what the students read," I would like to discuss the first book in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin (pronounced "Owen," for what it's worth) Colfer.
Book checkouts: 12
Series checkouts: 55
Typical reader: Upper elementary or middle school student, approximately 60/40 male/female

Synopsis: To sum it up in a sentence, "Imagine an evil, 12-year-old James Bond exploiting fairies for their treasure."

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This series is tremendously popular with the grades 5-7 crowd.  The first book alone garnered a dozen checkouts, even with having to pull it for repairs a couple times.  So I absolutely had to give it a try.

My impression of the eponymous first book of the series is a bit mixed, but positive overall.  I had a little difficulty getting into it at first, but once Captain Holly Short, the protagonist on the fairy side, was introduced, the reading became more to my liking.  It is a genre-defying mix of science fiction, fantasy, folklore, and criminal/espionage thriller.  And it actually works for the most part.  This is a great story.

Artemis Fowl is a rather sinister title character, who brings to mind the "James Bond" and "Mission Impossible" themes and maybe the need for a cat to stroke, Dr. Claw-style, on the arm of his chair.  He is coldly calculating, a young criminal mastermind from a long lineage of such villains.  By his side are his henchman Butler and Butler's little sister, Juliet, ready and willing to do his bidding.  In this story, that bidding is to a) track down the "Book" that all fairies have in their possession that, when decoded, reveals many of their secrets, b) kidnap a fairy when it comes above-ground to complete a magic ritual, and c) obtain the pot of gold ransom in exchange for the prisoner.

On the plus side, the fairy lore is superb and both Artemis and Holly are well-rounded characters.  Artemis comes across as a pretty solid villain, yet he also has soft spots, a touch of childishness that he can't quite shake, and other qualities that make him human.  Holly is a soldier, the first female LEP-recon officer, with both a penchant for screwing up and being tough as nails.  She's rather likable.  Several secondary fairy characters are also nicely fleshed out.

On the negative side, I would prefer to have seen more to Butler and Juliet's personalities.  Juliet especially came across a bit one-dimensional.  There are hints that Butler is more than just a big goon who follows orders without question and cares for his sister, but his character was left wanting.  Mature readers may be turned off by the abundance of toilet humor concerning dwarves - though that can also be a draw for many young readers.  Lastly, your mileage may vary concerning the environmentalism and xenophobia of the fair folk.

Overall, this is a good first adventure that has the potential to draw in readers of many different genres.

Next time on "Reading what the students read": Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.  I got it from the library today.  Stay tuned!

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