Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
by Eoin Colfer
Review by John Berlyne
Puffin Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0670899631
Date: 06 June 2002 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The popularity and commercial success of the younger end of the genre market is something we'd all be wise not to ignore. Children's books depicting stories of magic and the extraordinary have always been around of course in my day (not that long ago!) there was Narnia and Oz and later on the books of Alan Garner and the classic status of all these works mean they are still around for my own children to experience. However, since the arrival of that boy with the scar on his forward and his geeky spectacles, everything has changed. Clearly the world has gone mad with collectors paying over £10,000 for a first edition children's book that was only published four or five years ago and, of course, we are seeing clones galore flooding the market as publishers fight for a slice of one of the most lucrative pies around.
In this glut of children's genre fiction, it has not escaped my notice that most of those rising to the top of the pile are based on this side of the Atlantic. Following Rowling and the extraordinary His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, we've had the excellent "steampunk for kids" Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve; Michael Molly's haunting Atlantis tale, The Witch Trade; William Nicholson's award winning trilogy that began with The Wind Singer and Irishman Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, dubbed "Die Hard with Fairies".
Colfer's novel was published last year and sold over 150,000 copies in hard cover, proving that there is room for others at the inn. Film rights were reportedly sold before publication for very healthy figure and the book was reprinted immediately upon publication. First editions now command around £100.00 and proofs three or four times that amount. Room at the inn, indeed! Now Colfer's anti-hero is back in another adventure, The Arctic Incident, and it looks set for the same success as its predecessor.
Artemis Fowl is a thirteen-year-old criminal genius. His father (also a criminal genius) is missing, presumed dead and his mother, now recovered (thanks to fairy magic) from the melancholic madness the affected her during the course of the previous novel has packed Artemis off to an expensive boarding school. There he confounds the child psychologists (he does, after all know much more about their subject than they do - wrote the book on it in fact!) and merely broods on the possibility of finding his father whom he steadfastly believes to still be alive. A breakthrough comes when Fowl's manservant and bodyguard, appropriately named Butler, hands his master what amounts to a ransom note apparently from the Russian Mafiya and thus begins the adventure.
Meanwhile down in the bowels of the Earth, in the Lower Elements - the last "Mud Man" free zone on the planet, there is upheaval in the fairy domain. One of the most joyful and refreshingly original elements of Colfer's novels is the fact that this fairyland is not a hoppity-skippity enchanted forest. Rather this is a hip and happening high-tech urban landscape, infested with crime and grime and the need for a police force with a hell of an arsenal. Their job isn't easy aside from dealing with the crimes perpetrated amongst their own various kinds from trolls to pixies to goblins, there is the added and ever present danger of discovery by humans. It was just such a danger that pitted the LEP against young Artemis Fowl previously. Now it transpires that someone has been trading with the Mud Men, a very serious crime, and experience tells Captain Holly Short, the hard-edged heroine we met last time, that the whole thing has a "Fowl" smell about it.
Holly pays a visit "up top" to try and find Artemis and question him about his possible involvement and there both parties find they need one another in order to solve their various problems. An unlikely alliance is formed and much adventure ensues.
The Arctic Incident is wholly enjoyable on many levels. It plays with the kind of toys that are now part of our children's everyday lives (and it is this integral inclusion that is Colfer's ace in the hole) vital clues are transmitted by email and text messaging, ransom demands come as mpg files and added to this are some wonderful impossible inventions, the stuff of pure science fiction. Intelligent, gritty and fun characters inhabit the book - paranoid centaurs, farting dwarfs, heroic elves and of course, young Artemis himself, calculating, shrewd but also isolated by his brilliance. It is great escapist fun all round.
Like Artemis Fowl before it, The Arctic Incident is a fresh and modern take on the traditional fairy story and one that you'll enjoy, whatever your age. Highly recommended.