Saturday, January 8, 2011

Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer, 2010

Yes, I know the Artemis Fowl series isn't exactly heady, mind-bending science fiction. And yes, I know it's technically a series for kids. But I've found the Artemis books highly entertaining over the years. They're an appealing mixture of smart-ass humor, nonstop action and fun characters. Eoin Colfer will never be on the level of, say, J.K. Rowling or Jonathan Stroud, but he's created an entertaining series.

It's also a series that's been off its game for a few volumes now. 2008's The Time Paradox was sub par at best, while 2006's The Lost Colony was only so-so. Part of the problem is that the plots and devices are getting increasingly stale and part of it is that Colfer has not really allowed the characters to grow much outside of their respective roles in the story.

So, for me, The Atlantis Complex really needed to revive the series and prove that it still has some juice left. I can say that it was definitely an improvement on Paradox, as well as being a fast, fun read. What it didn't do was solve any of the series' long-lasting problems.

As one would guess, the series revolves around Artemis Fowl, a brilliant teenaged ex-criminal mastermind who, at the tender age of twelve, discovered the existence of a high-tech race of fairies, who keep themselves hidden from humans. Although initially enemies, Artemis eventually joins forces with the fairies in order to combat various evildoers and fiendish plots.

In Complex, Artemis arranges a meeting with the fairies in order to discuss a new technology he's created. Unfortunately, the meeting is cut short when a space probe plummets to earth, putting the fairy city of Atlantis at risk, which is only the beginning of an old adversary's attack on the fairy world. To top it off, Artemis is suffering from a magical disease that causes obsessiveness, paranoia and and the emergence of a second personality.

In short, all the trappings are there for the average Artemis adventure. All of the main characters are back (feisty Captain Holly Short, unstoppable bodyguard Butler, wisecracking techie centaur Foaly and flatulent burglar dwarf Mulch Diggums) and all of the old tropes firmly in place.

This works both to the novel's advantage and to its detriment. The familiarity of the plotting, characterization and semi-lame banter is comfortingly entertaining, but it also makes for a fairly predictable, straightforward read. The main story doesn't really twist or turn, and the villain is unmemorable.

Ironically, the "fresher" parts of the book are also some of the weak parts. Artemis's split personality is mildly amusing at first, but gets old quickly, especially because we're deprived from seeing Artemis in action for most of the novel.

Despite the fact that he isn't a terrific stylist (there's a few noticeably awkward sentences in Paradox), Colfer has a good sense of humor and his wit and sarcasm have always been a highlight of the series:

"I do not intend to ask you for your daughter's hand in marriage, Mr. Adamsson, so I think we can skip over any icebreakers you may feel obliged to offer. Is everything ready?"

Adam Adamsson's pre-prepared icebreakers melted in his throat, and he nodded half a dozen times.

"All ready. Your crate is around the back. I have supplied a vegetarian buffet and goody bags from the Blue Lagoon Spa. A few seats have been laid out too, as bluntly requested in your terse e-mail. None of your party turned up, though--nobody but you-- after all my labors."

Artemis lifted an aluminum briefcase from the Ski-Doo's luggage box. "Don't you worry about that, Mr. Adamsson. Why don't you head back to Reykjavik and spend some of that extortionate fee you charged me for a couple of hours' usage of your frankly third-rate restaurant and perhaps find a friendless tree stump to listen to your woes?"
--- (pages 9-10)

Overall, Complex was a good time, an entertaining, breezy (literally) novel that still never manages to escape the good-not-great box that the Fowl series currently resides in. The character interaction and the plotting feels a little tired and staid, signs of age for the seven-book cycle. Colfer claims that the next entry is the series' last-- which he's said about every book since the third. If it truly is, I hope he manages to craft a fitting end. Artemis, Holly, Butler, Mulch and Foaly deserve it.

And, yeah, I know it's a kids' book. Sue me.

NEXT UP: George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. 'Cos the Wheel of Time series just isn't enough for me.

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