I think I first encountered Artemis Fowl in the now sady defunct Teachers’ TV programme Reading Aloud with Michael Rosen, which can be accessed on YouTube. The elevator pitch summary, “Die Hard with Fairies”, really appealed to me. I see that my copy is a 2002 Puffin edition, which suggests that I may have bought it second hand. It was also one of the books touted as the “anti- Harry Potter”, which in some ways it is: Artemis, son of a vanished millionaire, is a genius master criminal at the age of 12, and we meet him at the age of 12, hunting down a fairy in Ho Chi Minh City in order to get hold of a copy of the Book of the fairies, in order to learn their language and kidnap a fairy to demand fairy gold in return.
It is not a spoiler to say that he succeeds in this enterprise, thereby setting off a chain of events which nearly results in war between the fairies and the humans. A centaur, the fairy police and a flatulant dwarf burglar all feature, and it it is enormous fun. But, importantly, Artemis remains devious and secretive until the end. The good guys- the fairies- are not entirely good, and the bad guys- Artemis and Butler, his butler, are not entirely bad, but Artemis is not wholly redeemed by the end of the book.
It is this lack of a pure moral ending that has led some reviewers to pan the book, and some contemporary reviewers compared it unfavourably to Harry Potter, and it seems that Artemis is still a genius, but not evil, in the forthcoming Disney adaptation. Of course, this isn’t the first time that a book for young people has been considerably watered down for cinema: see, for example, the reent adaptation of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. The books still exist, and can be enjoyed, even if the film is disappointing.
So what would an adult get out of this book? Well, in my opinion, anyone 10+ would enjoy this book if they enjoy an exciting techno-thriller with a twist of magic, a brilliant range of well-defined characters and audacious puns. Enjoy the books, even if you have no intention of watching the flm on Disney +.