Saturday, 18 November 2006

ARTEMIS FOWL: The Eternity Code, Eoin Colfer, 2003

ARTEMIS FOWL - THE ETERNITY CODE by Eoin Colfer, Puffin, 2003, hardback, 329 pages, NZ$19.95. ISBN 0-670-91352-9
Reviewed by Trevor Agnew

Fowl Fun

Artemis Fowl is a richer, selfish and more self-aware hero than Harry Potter but equally readable. Young readers already know, and love to read, Artemis Fowl from his first two volumes. (My biggest problem in writing this review has been foiling young readers’ attempts to purloin my copy.) Now I am urging all open-minded adults to read Eion Colfer’s novels, because they are fresh, fast-moving and often very funny.

The present gulf between children’s books and adults’ books is relatively recent. Ann Thwaite, a New Zealander, in her excellent life of Frances Hodgson Burnett, points out that “everyone”, young and old, originally read The Secret Garden, Heidi, Treasure Island and Alice in Wonderland. Then children’s books moved off into their own reservation. The wheel turned full circle recently when J.K. Rowling’s publishers re-issued the Harry Potter novels in sombre covers, so that adults could read them without being embarrassed.

Which brings us back to Artemis Fowl. In his third adventure, The Eternity Code, he is now 13 and has created (or rather pirated fairy technology to make) the Cube, a communication device which renders all existing computer technology obsolete. This earns him the hostility of Spiro (a ruthless computer mogul best summed up as Not-Bill-Gates) and his brutal minder Arno, a tattooed New Zealander. (Clearly Colfer didn’t waste time during his visit here last year.) After being dentally challenged by one of Artemis’s explosions, Arno wears transparent dentures half-filled with blue oil. Colfer delights in yukky details like this; several sequences are rated VA: vexing to adults but a delight to adolescents.

Before the dust of the first chapter’s conflict has settled. Butler the faithful bodyguard is dead or at least in cryogenic storage. Captain Holly Short of the Lower Element (read fairy) Police comes to the rescue again, though with unexpected results. Artemis makes new colleagues (he doesn’t really have friends) and meets old ones. Juliet is Butler’s little sister, able to break down and reassemble 90% of the world’s production weapons, as well as doing her makeup in under four minutes. She and Holly do most of the fighting, while Mulch Diggums, the tunnel dwarf, who can snag cockroaches with his beard-hair, develops a new career as part of their burglary-and-rescue team.

The text is a witty delight. Spiro’s computer empire is called Fission Chips, and Stonehenge was built by the fairies as “an outlet for a flat-bread-based food. Or, in human terms, a pizza parlour.”

Artemis’s emotional development is interesting. Like his father, Artemis is undergoing some sort of moral enlightenment, and at one point even makes a massive donation to Amnesty International. Of course his spiritual transformation is not quite complete; he retains a 10% finder’s fee.

By the end of The Eternity Code a fairy mind-wipe seems likely to leave a mere shell of the old Artemis, bundled off to boarding school and separated from computer and laboratory. Or will Artemis outwit everyone again? Fowl play may well triumph in Volume 4.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on May 3rd 2003.

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