Chapter One: The Book
In which Artemis and Butler track down an alcoholic sprite in Ho Chi Minh City, and manage to relieve her of her copy of the Book.
Straight out, I should say that there are lots of things about the Artemis Fowl books that make them significant in the world of children’s fiction. Turning the whole fairy fantasy thing on its head by making them technologically advanced is the obvious one, but another significant one is the fact that it is very difficult to say who the protagonist is.
(Of course, Eoin Colfer is not the only one to have done this. The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud did it very well too. But Artemis Fowl was the first book I read like this.)
As we know, it gets easier to define in later books, as Artemis starts showing his good side. But in this book, he is definitely not the good guy. Despite this, his motivations are the first we are introduced to, and so it’s hard to write him off as being merely the antagonist in this story. And as for the question of who is … I’ll get to that later.
We begin our story in Ho Chi Minh City, with Artemis intimidating his local contact in an almost Holmesian fashion:
‘You are wearing handmade loafers, a silk shirt and three gold signet rings. Your English has a tinge of Oxford about it and your nails have the soft sheen of the recently manicured. You are not a waiter. You are our contact, Nguyen Xuan, and you have adopted this pathetic disguise to discreetly check for weaponry.’
Nice job, Arty. One wonders how Nguyen intended to get away with that little deception.
Incidentally, it made me laugh that Butler calls Artemis “sir” in this book. I don’t remember him doing that later on.
‘Let me fill you in on the weapons status,’ continued Artemis. ‘I am unarmed. But Butler here, my … ah … butler, has a Sig Sauer in his shoulder holster, two shrike throwing knives in his boots, a derringer two-shot up his sleeve, garrotte wire in his watch and three stun grenades concealed in various pockets. Anything else, Butler?’
‘The cosh, sir.’
I love Butler. He’s so matter-of-fact about everything. He also casually snatches a mosquito out of the air, just because it was flying near Artemis. Lol.
So, at this point we have a title character who is incredibly focussed on the job at hand, is distrustful of others, isn’t afraid to make threats and loves showing off his intelligence (and totally freaking people out in the process). Oh yeah, and he’s TWELVE.
The way he treats Nguyen seems a little heavy-handed. Artemis is afraid that he’s walking into a trap, but he also seems to revel in taking the upper hand in the situation, and making sure Nguyen knows who’s calling the shots. When you think about it, the stakes aren’t that high.
Anyway, after this show of unnecessary intimidation, they find a sprite who is healing minor injuries in return for rice wine. Artemis gives her a bottle of whiskey to gain her favour … however (on page twelve!), he is showing his ruthless, manipulative side when the whiskey turns out to be holy water, which is apparently poisonous to fairies. By doing so, he and Butler are able to make copies of her Book, and they leave her under the influence of a virus, which will expel all alcohol from her system and allow her to take full advantage of her magic again.
Eoin Colfer is already showing us that he will utilise both his imagination and his knowledge of technology to bring us this story. Science, technology and magic are colliding in the very first scene, and we all know this is not the only time they will!
The Butlers had been serving the Fowls for centuries. It had always been the way. Indeed there were several eminent linguists of the opinion that this was how the noun originated.
Tee hee hee. I love that Colfer doesn’t take this book too seriously, and allows himself to build up the world of the story with stuff like this.
At the age of ten, Butler children were sent to a private training centre in Israel, where they were taught the specialized skills necessary to guard the latest in the Fowl line. These skills included cordon bleu cooking, marksmanship, a customized blend of martial arts, emergency medicine and information technology.
I’m going to be really nerdy and annoying now, and point out the inconsistency between this paragraph and The Eternity Code: in that book, it’s said that Madam Ko’s academy is never located in the same country for more than five years, or something to that effect. All right, pedantry over.
The current Butler had been guarding young Master Artemis for twelve years, since the moment of his birth. And, though they adhered to the age-old formalities, they were much more than master and servant. Artemis was the closest thing Butler had to a friend, and Butler was the closest Artemis had to a father, albeit one who obeyed orders.
Artemis doesn’t realise it now, of course, but this really is a sad existence. His parents and Butler are the only people he really cares about, besides himself, and it will take a couple of books for him to start caring about others.
Finally, am I the only one who finds the thought of Butler guarding baby Artemis absolutely hilarious? 🙂