While the publisher originally marketed this book and subsequent series as something for Harry Potter fans to read while they were waiting for the next book in the series, it really has very little to do with that type of writing.
Artemis is a twelve year old criminal genius, hailing from a long line of criminal geniuses. There has to be a Moriarity somewhere in his bloodline. He has that same flair for Holmesian inductive reasoning and mathematical precision. When we meet him he is extorting his way to possession of the Book of lore which governs the life of the fairy folk. He is both clever and ruthless in his pursuit of any goal.
At the same time, however, he is alone. His father has been missing for years. His mother is a semi-invalid in their Irish estate. He is assisted by his formidable aid, Butler, and Butler’s younger sister, Juliet, but he is the brains of the outfit, and his plans have wheels within wheels.
The other characters in the book are fairies. Mostly we follow Holly Short, a member of the Lower Elements Police Recon (that’s LEPrecon, you see - get it?) team. The fairy folk all live underground because the Mud People (that’s us) have taken over some much of the surface world that there are no good places left for them to live in privacy. Besides, they’re not that fond of sunlight.
Colfer has updated Fairyland substantially. Most of their magic seems to be a combination of psychic powers and advanced technology, which can be overcome if one is tricky enough. Artemis nearly manages to pull off his caper once he has a digital copy of the Book to guide him.
While on an assignment to corral a rogue troll Holly discovers that she needs to go through the earth ritual that she’s been putting off in order to renew her powers. She chooses to fly to Ireland for this errand, and its here that Artemis traps and captures her.
Why capture a fairy? Well, everyone knows that if you catch a leprechaun (got it now?) they have to guide you to their pot of gold. Actually, it’s not quite like that, but there is a ransom that the fairy folk will pay to get one of their own back, and that’s what Artemis is after.
Much of the book is taken up with the siege of the Fowl mansion, an affair which has as much slapstick comedy as it does action. Neither side gets exactly what they would have liked out of this affair, although Artemis could probably be said to have come out ahead, to have gained something of his obvious objective and something else besides. That “something else” is enough to make us think that there might be more to this “bad boy” than is immediately obvious. By the end of the book Artemis comes across as a juvenile villain who simply enjoys the challenge a caper presents for him, kind of like Sherlock Holmes injecting himself with cocaine in the earlier stories just to keep from being bored.
Artemis has a softer side too and what he does with the wish that he manages to obtain from Holly came as a bit of a surprise to me, and maybe even to him.
The author is a former schoolteacher (yet another one!) who has written a number of other books. So far there are four in this series and they seem to be getting quite a bit of wear at my local library.