|In Short:||The world has gone mad! Or is it just Artemis?|
| "Maybe he didn't
do it," suggested Juliet. "Maybe his plan went
wrong. A lot of geniuses have been screwing up
lately, if you see what I am trying to say,
Artemis half-smiled. "I see what you are trying to say, Juliet. Mainly because you are saying it clearly and bluntly with no attempt to spare my feelings."
I have followed the adventures of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl from the very beginning. When the shiny, self-titled first installment came out in 2001, I was there, and became immediately entranced by Colfer’s clever twist on fae mythology, and even cleverer pre-adolescent genius anti-hero. Each new installment of the series has been met with much glee on my part, on an almost Potter-esque scale; I even stuck with him through a time travel adventure involving paradoxes (and I knew in advance it was going to be about time paradoxes, ‘cause it was called Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox), which – as anyone who knows my aversion to such could attest – shows a great level of commitment on my part to this young man’s escapades.
Artemis, in the beginning, was a 12-year-old boy in a designer suit and on a daring mission. Brilliant son of a successful but missing crime lord, Artemis is determined to restore his family’s fortunes and find his father, by any means necessary. So, as anyone might reasonably decide is a sensible course of action, he plots to kidnap a fairy and ransom it back to The People for the gold he so craves. Astoundingly, he pulls it off, making in the process several friends within the ranks of the Lower Elements Police, Reconnaissance Division (LEPrecon), along with quite a few enemies. The Lower Elements is populated by fairies, pixies, trolls, sprites and many another legendary creature, and this is no Enid Blyton bedtime story. These creatures make up a highly advanced society who wield powers of technological superiority as much as magic, and Artemis little knew what he was messing with when he chose to enter their realm.
Over the course of the next five books, our aspiring young criminal grows himself something of a conscience and develops of a knack for getting the fairy folk out of trouble, even if occasionally it is trouble he got them into in the first place. (Oh, and he did find his father.) This time out, Artemis is fifteen years old -- though he should be older… damn time paradox! -- and is suffering from manias many and terrifying. He has number fears and fixations, rampant OCD, is disastrously paranoid and acting completely out of character. (He wants to fund the saving of the Earth’s polar icecaps with his own money!) He meets up with friend/ally/crush, LEP Captain Holly Short, centaur techwhiz Foaly and an ill-fated LEP commander in Iceland to show off his altruistic invention when they are attacked from space! And then the multiple personality kicks in.
Y’see, Artemis is suffering from a fairy malady known as the Atlantis Complex (named for the place where it was first diagnosed; yes, Atlantis is part of the Lower Elements, naturally), brought on by his multiple tanglings with fairy magic as well as guilt over his mother’s recent brush with death. (Which was kind of all his fault.) And meanwhile, an old enemy -- not, for once, Opal Koboi, the delightfully deranged pixie who has been the most frequent cause of Artemis and Holly’s woes – is on the road to revenge and release, thanks to his native gift at manipulation and the judicious use of dark magic.
I have to say, for a good portion of this book, I just didn’t quite know what to make of it. Having your protagonist descend into madness before your very eyes is a disconcerting experience, particularly in a children’s/YA book, and the inordinate amount of plot-advancing coincidences seemed tenuous and perplexing. But I should have known to trust in Colfer’s gift for intelligent absurdity; the book’s title works on two levels, as not only does Artemis suffer from the titular illness, but we also go to Atlantis and the story is complex.
The gang’s all here, from Artemis and Holly to Foaly and Mulch Diggums and Trouble Kelp, as well as some other familiar, not always welcome, faces. Artemis’s faithful bodyguard and master of all martial arts, Butler, and his ass-kicking sister Juliet have a role to play, and I think that The Atlantis Complex, while not my favorite of the series, is yet the series’ best, and will assuredly bear a re-read in the none too distant future. I’m still not sure I’ve made all the connections I should have.
One thing Colfer has never done is speak down to his nominal audience. His recent Encyclopedia Brown-esque crime noir caper, Half Moon Investigations, featured another young hero with a grasp of the workings of the world far beyond his years, and Artemis’s story has always been intricate and exciting enough to warrant adult attention. True, the author’s penchant for scatological humor (and, in the case of Half Moon Investigations, mucus-based entertainment) can be off-putting to the more refined reader, but if one can ignore that more disgusting schoolboy elements, then there is a very enjoyable tale and a unique take on a very old myth to be found in Artemis’s world, at any age.
I’ll definitely be sticking around to see what disaster befalls the determined young mastermind next. Well, unless it looks like there'll be more time paradoxes. One book full of those horrid things was more than enough for me.
-- Rachel Hyland