When I first read Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, I was not much older than the titular 11-year-old criminal mastermind. He, and his friends and enemies, followed me as I grew up, stretching their collective story over seven books, two graphic novels (and counting) and a movie that never got past the casting phase.
Artemis Fowl is a kid genius. A genius who discovered fairies. Humans drove the fairy race underground thousands of years ago, and they have lived there in secret since. Each book details interactions between Artemis and this underground society, and typically revolves around Artemis, his bodyguard Butler, elven police officer Holly Short, kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums and genius centaur Foaly battling some conflict or disaster that affects both races. Colfer takes great care to develop the relationships of the characters over multiple books, especially the initially antagonistic relationship between Holly and Artemis.
The eighth book in the series, Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, is also the final book. It is, sadly, not exactly a glowing capstone on the chronicle of Artemis Fowl and his friends. Up through the fifth book in the series, Colfer had done the seemingly impossible: writing a series largely immune to the degenerative effects of sequelitis. The sixth and seventh books, however, were much less memorable, and the eighth continues this trend.
Last September Colfer released Plugged, a book with far too much violence and sexuality to be called a children’s book. Though it differed from Artemis Fowl in this regard, it retained the self-aware humor and fast-paced narration that has characterized the series. This is a sign, I think, that Colfer is finished with Artemis Fowl. He has already begun transplanting the best elements of the series into other works.
This would be the simplest explanation for the lazy characterization in The Last Guardian. The characters seem like automatons. They act in accordance with their major pre-established traits, but lack the nuance and depth that previously let Colfer stretch the definition of “children’s book.”
Because of this, the story is predictable and inorganic. The entire middle section of the book felt forced and scripted, save for one or two moments that were as good as the rest were bad and had me genuinely laughing.
The beginning stands in stark contrast to the middle, however. It is perhaps the flashiest of any Artemis Fowl book, involving more-or-less the end of the world. From the explosive beginning onward, Colfer straddles a fine line: How much drama is too much? While I occasionally thought that the stakes have never been higher—a true and exciting thought for me as a reader—I more often felt that Colfer was just throwing life-threatening situations at the wall to see what stuck.
Melodrama aside, this conclusion to the series could have been much worse. Colfer had the good sense to give Artemis’s character arc a satisfying conclusion. Though it seems contrived upon close examination, this is one facet of the book that I am happy to not examine closely. When we met Artemis in 2001 he was an utter jerk, and he’s been growing ever since. He deserves his happy ending, even if it was far less fulfilling than it could have been.