Like most of you, I was a Harry Potter kid growing up. And, like many of you of a certain age, I knew the pain of waiting a year or two between books (you whippersnappers nowadays can't understand that struggle. Youths!). So, I had to find other books to satisfy my fantasy habit in between Harry Potter installments.
One fateful day, at a Scholastic book fair, I stumbled across a novel with a gold cover called Artemis Fowl. With nothing but a quote on the back to give me a hint of what it was about ("Stay back, human. You don't know what you're dealing with."), I decided to take a chance.
If you haven't read the book by Eoin Colfer (shame on you!), here's a quick rundown: Artemis Fowl is an Irish 12-year-old criminal mastermind who's determined to catch a fairy. With the help of his trusty manservant Butler, he manages to kidnap an elf named Holly Short and hold her for ransom. His price: one ton of fairy gold. As you can imagine, this plan becomes complicated by the inclusion of the entire fairy police force, a kleptomaniac dwarf, and a magical bomb.
There's a bunch of books in the Artemis Fowl series (some better than others, TBH), but I'd like to focus on the first installment. It acts like a standalone novel, and if you're only going to read one book in the series, here's five reasons you should definitely check out Artemis Fowl.
Artemis is a smart and diabolical young protagonist
Unlike a certain stupid protagonist from another beloved children's series (controversial opinion: Harry Potter), Artemis is one smart cookie. And I don't mean in an adorable, precocious kid kind of way. I mean in an impossibly intelligent, criminal mastermind kind of way. At 12 years old he has already ran his father's crime empire, blackmailed one fairy and kidnapped another, and cheated an entire magical police force out of a ton of gold, all the while resisting their attempts to kill him and his family. And he managed to do all of this by sticking to a well thought-out plan, not just by stumbling into danger (again, looking at you, Harry).
The conflicts aren't black and white
Of course, you could argue that Artemis isn't such a great guy. He did all of that aforementioned criminal activity and put his family (his mother, Butler, Juliet) in a lot of danger for the sake of gold. But the fairies weren't exactly great people either: Mulch Diggums, a dwarf, is a professional thief, and the police squad not only release a troll into the Fowls' home but also try to wipe them all out with a bomb. Artemis Fowl is much more into moral grey areas than a book like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, where there are clearly Good Guys and Bad Guys. Personally, I love how gleefully morally ambiguous the book is, and I always appreciate a kid's book that trusts its readers to be smart enough to handle a story that isn't so black and white.
Holly Short is a hero every child needs to meet
The book might be named after Artemis, but let's take a minute to talk about the real hero of the book: Holly Short, first female captain in the LEPrecon force. Despite the slight mishap that leads to her being kidnapped early in the book, Holly is no damsel in distress. She wreaks havoc on the Fowl house once her magic is restored and is able to handle the situation without the disastrous "help" from her misogynistic LEPrecon colleagues. In fact, she's basically the most kickass elf on the force, even though she doesn't get the respect she deserves (because OBVIOUSLY).
The book is funny as hell
I started rereading my copy of the first book to write this piece, and I forgot how funny this book is. Like actual, laugh-out-loud funny. Sure, some of it is aimed at younger readers, though I think everyone can see the humor in a farting dwarf. But some of it is pretty sly, and a little dark for the younger crowd. For instance:
Once a Fowl and a Butler were put together, they were paired for life. It was a demanding job, and lonely, but the rewards were handsome if you survived to enjoy them. If not, then your family received a six-figure settlement plus a monthly pension.
Definitely a little adult gallows thrown into the mix. But hey, every 12-year-old should be able to appreciate a good dark death joke, along with fart gags.
The magical world is run by grumpy cops and paranoid centaurs
One of my favorite parts of fantasy novels is seeing how they set up their magical communities, and I have a soft spot for fairylands that mirror human bureaucracies. Weird, I know, but I prefer when my fairies have clear human counterparts; it makes it funnier to me for some reason. So to see weathered old elf cop Julius Root arguing with a tech-savvy but paranoid centaur Foaly while a sneaky Mulch pickpockets them both... that's just about perfect to me.