Children’s fantasy I read as an adult 2: Artemis Fowl


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 +.

My Little Pony: The Movie review, Vector

I’ve just seen an email about the annual round up for British Science Fiction Association’s  Vector magazine. I was sent it because last year, I wrote two reviews: one on the film Okja (warning- swearing in the trailer) and one on My Little Pony: The Movie.

my little pony

This is my piece. I hope you enjoy it!

My Little Pony: The Movie

2017, Dir: Jayson Thiesson

All is well in the female-centric ponytopia of Equestria, and Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity and Rainbow Dash are helping their friend, Princess Twilight Sparkle, prepare for the Friendship Festival, featuring pop star pegasus Songbird Serenade (played by Sia). However, the festival is interrupted by the arrival of ferocious minions of the Storm King, led by a unicorn with a broken horn, Tempest (Emily Blunt). Tempest captures Twilight Sparkle’s sisters, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, inside obsidian spheres, but before she is petrified, Celestia calls out that her sisters should get help from the “Queen of the Hippo…”. Twilight Sparkle, her friends and her assistant, the dragon Spike, head off on a quest to save her sisters, unaware that the Storm King has charged Tempest with the capture of Twilight Sparkle to complete the spell to activate his staff; in return he will mend her broken horn. On the way the Mane 6 encounter a con artist called Capper, who intended to sell them to pay off a debt until their friendship convinces him to help them, some bird-like former pirates turned delivery airship crew and they discover that the hippos they are looking for are in fact hippogriffs, Queen Novo and Princess Skystar.

This film, aimed at small girls, is no Moana or Despicable Me. Some of the songs are catchy (Rainbow Dash’s It’s Time To Be Awesome is particularly tenacious as an ear worm) but Sia’s Rainbow is rather lacklustre as a finale to an epic quest, facing peril and testing honesty and friendships. So why include it in a round-up of SFF films of 2017? Well, when women’s roles in genre films are still too often Smurfette (Wonder Woman) or Princess Peach, a reward for the hero’s successful quest and persistence (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) it is positive to see a fantasy film where friendships between female characters are prioritised; where they rescue themselves and are resourceful and independent, solving their own problems.  I have not yet seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but I have read that the core friendships and relationships are between women; however it is Rose and Finn (a man and a woman) who go off on the quest.

Katha Pollit first used the term “The Smurfette Principle” in a 1991 essay for the New York Times Magazine, in which she cited April O’ Neill from the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles cartoon as well as Miss Piggy from The Muppets- and indeed, we could include Paw Patrol with its one female puppy; the pink one, of course, as a contemporary Smurfette. By having a mainly female cast of protagonists- and a female antagonist- My Little Pony: The Movie centres female friendships in a SFF film in a way that I have not seen since Ghostbusters (2016).

I told my resident 8-year-old Brony that I was writing about My Little Pony: The Movie. He said “it’s great!” And yes, it is.

Review: Ali Baker

Review: Emily Knight I am… awakened

Please note: I was sent this book by the author, A. Bello, in return for an honest review.

emily knight I am awakened

A year after the events of the first book, Emily Knight I am, relucant warrior in training Emily Knight returns to her training school, Osaki. The daughter of famous warrior Thomas Knight and sister of missing Lox, Emily has a lot to deal with: the return of the evil Neci, terrifying dreams and intense adolescent feelings affecting friendships and relationships with her class mates. Can Emily learn to control her emotions enough to enable her  to control her powers and help save her school and friends?

It’s fantastic to see the story of Emily expanded, and to learn more about the world of the warriors. The beginning chapter is the back story of a significant character in the world (no spoilers!) which was satisfying. A. Bello has created an enjoyable, ethnically diverse fantasy world, which fans of Japanese martial arts-inspired cartoons such as Pokemon, and of X-Men or Runaways should enjoy- the powers both bind Emily to her follow warriors in training and also separate her from the everyday life of her foster family. It’s wonderful to read about people of colour with privilege, living in luxurious gated community Legends Village. Emily is a Black girl; we need more visible diversity in the fantasy world, especially for young people, and especially in this era where the importance of #ownvoices is being recognised. It is also important for young white people to read about characters of colour that are not just in stories about challenging urban lives- though these books are also important. Maybe the third novel in the series will feature a queer character of colour too.

I have one quibble, however- this book needed another copy edit to catch errors in of/off and in misplaced commas in the final third of the book. Hopefully this will be done before the second edition!