But it’s still really, really bad.
This article will be full of all sorts of spoilers. Beware!
A friend of mine and I are just about the biggest Artemis Fowl fans out there. With each new installment, we giddily gobble up the book at lightening speed, vowing to not discuss it until both have closed the back cover. The agreement worked well for the first six books about the evil boy genius and his feisty fairy sidekicks. But about halfway through book seven, Atlantis Complex, I received a text from her that simply read, “WTF is wrong with this book?”
At the time, I couldn’t really put the issue into words, I just knew something was just disgustingly wrong with the text. A year later, upon relistening to the audiobook in preparation for the upcoming conclusion to the series, I finally get it. It’s a simple matter of growing pains.
In Atlantis Complex, Artemis Fowl is suffering from the titular disease, one that causes him to occasionally switch to a wholly different personality, Orion, who spends most of his time confessing undying love for the elf police captain, Holly Short. Artemis’ break with sanity could not possibly come at a worse time as the brother of the late Commander Julius Root is out for revenge — a revenge that happens to include sending a giant space probe hurtling towards the underwater fairy city if Atlantis.
The Artemis Fowl books have never been ones to shy away from tough subjects like death and familial mental health issues, but the topics are usually handled with punny humor and a good-guys-always-win attitude. But Atlantis Complex is distinctly darker and simply does not sit well in the mind.
A finger could be pointed at the ludicrous decision to give the main character of the story a completely unwelcome alternate personality. Artemis’ conniving, brilliant, slightly ruthless ways had always been the gem of these books, an anti-hero that everyone can love. And while I love a good out-of-character episode on TV (Hello there, evil Willow), doing so in book form with a main character was never going to work. Side characters, yes. How funny would it have been if, say, Mulch and Foaly swapped brains for a few days? But Artemis needs to be morally ambiguous on some level, not a knight in shining armor. The only thing that would have been worse in terms of character inversion would have been a sniveling, cowardly Holly Short.
Like I said, I think it comes down to growing pains. We’re almost to the eighth book of the series, and it’s clear that Eoin Colfer has a trajectory in mind for his most famous character. Artemis started as pure evil incarnate (okay, maybe a bit harsh, but he was a jerk), and has since turned into something that is far more worthy of the title Hero. But he is at the point now that a decision has to be made: does he tip all the way over to good, or does Artemis get to keep some of his patented trickstery evil?
I consider this book to be on par with the fifth Harry Potter, in which Harry spent about 75% of the novel being a whiny bitch (remember the all-caps shouting? Yep.). There, too, JK Rowling was making a decision about where to take the story. Keep it lighthearted or put it all on the line and take the deep dive into darker territory? In Harry Potter, it worked. The good vs. evil trajectory the series took made for a remarkable finale.
But for the last Artemis Fowl, I hope Colfer returns to lighter fare. I miss the easy humor, the less (dare I say) emo presentation of the characters, and I miss Artemis Fowl. I like that he has a heart now, that he has friends and, on some level, wants to do good. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with leaving him just a little bit dastardly, too.
What think you, Canaries?
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