The other boy wonder

Sis turned 11 on the 15th, three days ago. I keep on thinking, “turned 15 on the 11th”. Not like I’d rather have it that way — she’s growing up so fast that even thinking about the possibility frightens me. Her school doesn’t really allow (bar the gymnasts or being authorized) girls to keep long hair so she’s always shorn it down to a tomboy-ish look, and during the holidays she revels in letting her hair grow. Naturally, she looks more grown-up. What a scary notion.

I got Attica for her. Being at Borders, and Borders, what being so far away, I took my time. Which was all well and good because I managed to stumble upon Eoin Colfer’s latest Artemis Fowl book. Wasn’t really eager about strolling down to the Children’s section to get anything, since I figured, what with Fern being 11 and all, she deserved an “upgrade”, but the shiny cover caught my eye. Realised the last time I read anything by him was a year or so ago, maybe more.

For those who were wondering — Artemis Fowl ranks a close second in my ranking of the five or so relatively famous, worth reading trilogies/quartets/quintets around. The list being, in descending order:

  • Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy
  • Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series
  • Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea quartet
  • C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series (what’s a set of seven?)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

That’s right, I don’t think highly of LOTR. Never have. No, it deserves all the credit heaped on it, all the critical acclaim, the literary merit, the made-up languages — all that jazz. What I don’t really care for is how it doesn’t measure up to its contemporary counterparts anymore. You’ve got to give credit to the man for all that work he put into writing that trilogy we’ve all come to know one way or another, be it from the movies or books, but it’s sad that he’s dead. Elves, dwarves, wizards, magic. Trolls, ghouls, other ghastly creatures. Been there, done that.

Artemis Fowl’s what he might have written were he still alive in this age and time, and if he were a fan of science fiction and detective mysteries. For that’s basically what AF is all about — fantasy with twists. I finally realised why I enjoyed Death Note — the manga, mind you, not the movie — so much while reading the fifth; it was all about the logical deduction plays, the copious amounts of brain and wit mingled together. The active mind-play employed by one, or both main characters, the antagonist and protagonist.

So about the plot, now: imagine a 12 year-old boy genius with all the time and money in the world. Give him a hulking mountain of an accomplished bodyguard, the quintessential father figure. Then take your elves, dwarves, centaurs, faeries, sprites and what have you — have them live underground, in secrecy from humans. Call them The People, and deck them out with the finest technology befitting their “magical” status. Pit said boy genius-bodyguard duo against The People — despite the former’s lack of technology, which isn’t an issue once you realise how brilliant he is — and you’ve got AF. Equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, thriller and mystery. Yet for all the dazzle, the series has heart.

Maybe it’s because Eoin (pronounced Owen, as the blurb on the latest book clarifies) Colfer has hit on that sweet spot. One book averages out at around 350 pages — no Bible-sized novels to trudge through, no unnecessary character bloat and world mechanics taking up the space. The circumstances in each book vary greatly, and the scenarios are highly original thanks to the variables that he throws in — all without hitting the cliché button like some cretins novelists are wont to do. You cheer for the sometimes anti-hero, hiss at the villains, gape at the ever-expanding list of technology that Colfer manages to improvise upon or create with each new novel.

And the latest, fifth one was no exception. Although I have an issue with how the series is heading thanks to the “Surprise ending for the next book!” epilogues that are almost always synonymous with AF, it blurs in comparison with the new and existing characters that populate the world — how they’re fleshed out, their little kinks and quirks colouring the landscape of the novel better than one would expect. And Artemis saves the world yet again.

Of course, the one drawback to this whole thing is that it’s an ongoing series. I’d take Philip Pullman any day, simply because Pullman was smart and kept his world in three books. There’s something to be said about quality beating quantity, and you can’t beat something based around John Milton’s Paradise Lost, among other sources. But that’s a yarn for another time… maybe her 12th birthday.

The process of asking around about what to get for Fern was a tough one, though. Girls I asked all answered “but books are your thing!”, much to my amusement. Yeah, I know my books alright, because they’re either published with the words “Classic” or “Literature” on the cover, or the magic phrases of “Man Booker”, “Pulitzer Prize”, “Nobel Prize for Literature”, things that evidently wouldn’t interest her one bit. Heaven forbid I not know what my sister’s into — C-Pop, comics, the usual fluffy novellas. I wanted something with more lasting value, something that would still be appreciated 10 years later.

Fortunately, all that effort seems to have paid off. A day after, I asked — and she seems to like it a lot.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Birthdays, Books, E/N, Significance

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