Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Review: Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex.

Artemis Fowl is one of the biggest Young Adult series on the planet, and the ranking is deserved. The first installment will forever go down on the list of my fondest childhood books, alongside Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Alex Rider.

Then Colfer delivered five more adventures, all top notch work, though some were still better than others. The previous book, The Time Paradox, is my second favourite after the first. It had its flaws, but without giving too much away it dealt with teenage desire, facing the past, and taking responsibility in a mature manner and was a highly enjoyable read I couldn't put down.

The Atlantis Complex didn't do it for me. In fact, in my opinion it is the worst book in the series.

This book had so much potential. The blurb is thus: Artemis comes up with a plan to save the world from Global Warming and invites the fairies to see his plan. His friends quickly deduce he has the Atlantis Complex, which is the fairy version of multiple personality disorder mixed with some paranoia.

Which sounds completely awesome.

Then the gang are attacked by an unknown enemy and end up having to scramble to save the fairy world etc etc. All while Artemis is loony.

Now from what the rumours are saying, Colfer might be getting bored with Artemis Fowl. I'm not going to discuss it here, because regardless of the author's enthusiasm for the project, a published book must have received the author's every effort and I am going to review based on this assumption.

I am also well aware Colfer did a lot of chopping and changing of the story and had a deadline to meet.

First up, the narrative.

Colfer has always used his authorial voice in the Artemis Fowl series. Usually he does very well with what is usually a big no-no, but here it got in the way for the first time in the series. He used it, and used it, and used it, and most criminally of all he drained the suspense from the story. In one scene Artemis finds a strange object and Colfer tells the reader it is important. This was well into the story and I almost threw the book at the wall then.

Granted, this is the first new Fowl book I've read since learning about writing craft in detail, but I have re-read the others during this time and they have not jarred me like Colfer does in this book.

The authorial voice wouldn't be quite as annoying if he didn't tell instead of show throughout most of the book. The characters are also wooden at times, which contrasts greatly with previous books. Towards the end there is a scene where the characters should have been horrified. Instead they watch Holly's ordeal like it is a mildly interesting midday soap opera.

I don't have the other books on hand (they are in my hometown three hours away), but I don't remember the third person omnipresent POV being this prominent either. What is more, it fluctuates. Previously in the series we would have one character's viewpoint with the occassional switch to someone else, usually for an authorial joke.

In TAC, one scene Colfer will be head hopping with every paragraph and the next scene he will stick with one character with no head hopping. The inconsistency made it dificult for me to keep immersed.

The structure of the book is different as well. There are nine chapters and an epilogue that is really a chapter spread across 317 pages, excluding the random five page series recap at the start of the book.

While the chapters are sizable, the book feels cut in half. One goal is resolved, the other is not and there are still ten thousand new and old questions needing an answer. I don't mind cliffhangers, but I do feel like I've been left with half a book.

To illustrate, take the first half of The Arctic Incident, Beef up the word count then leave it there. That still doesn't quite illustrate it, but the feeling still stands.

Moving on to plot and character, things start to improve. A bit.

If you don't want spoilers, do not read past this point.

Artemis had his pros and cons. At the beginning his paranoia and superstition was plain to see and actually very well done. Little Arty has a thing for fives now. Fives and multiples of five are lucky and safe, fours and multiples of it mean death. He no longer trusts anyone, least of all himself, and he starts off quite brilliantly.

Then along comes his alternate personality, Orion.

On one hand, I appreciated Orion. He spoke like a Shakespeare play, was highly amusing and hung all of Artemis's secrets out to dry, including his attraction to Holly. He produced many laugh out loud moments.

But he could have been so much better.

I love it when Colfer gets dark and complex on the reader. He could have used any personality, anything, and he went for comic relief.

Orion just wasn't interesting enough. He has no depth, all he was was a gimmick to hinder Artemis. The superstition and paranoia suckered me in. I couldn't wait to see the personality Artemis developed.

But Orion is just stupid. If he had more depth than comic relief, he could have been very good. His only moment was when he hung Artemis's feelings for Holly out to dry. That conversation is one of the best moments in the story. But from then on he just sat there making stupid statements and expressing his love for Holly. Winding up Foaly is all well and good, but the Atlantis Complex strikes me as something that could be so much deeper.

In contrast, the villain of the piece is the most three dimensional one the series has had barring Artemis himself. Opal Koboi is fun and hilarious, but she can be a bit two dimensional.

Everything Turnball Root does is for love. He fell in love with a human woman and used the mesmer on her because he was scared she would stop loving him. She is now a very old woman and Root is desperate to escape prison so he can restore her lifeforce.

He is also arguably more of a monster than Koboi. I think his bodycount is higher than hers for a start.

I think Colfer handled romance well. Despite what he says about Holly and Artemis not loving each other, his characters have different ideas. TTPs kiss has been discussed to death, but in TAC there are more subtle hints. Holly says she wants to cradle his head in her hands and ask him what is the matter when she picks up on his paranoia and superstition. When Orion blurts out Arty's attraction, Holly says they will be discussing this in depth later. Then at the end she's holding his hand in hospital while they're talking and just as the reader thinks they're about to have that discussion, we cut to a Butler POV and he gets the last POV in the book.

The premise of the plot was brilliant, but it was poorly executed. The next book will be the last apparently. There are still two Opals running around, Artemis is still insane, and there is the Holly/Artemis dynamic. I hope it is a memorable finale. I love this series, and I want it to go out with a bang.

Two stars from me.

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