"Artemis Fowl," by Eoin Colfer, 280 pages, Hyperion Books, $16.95.

He's a genius, a criminal mastermind, a child prodigy and a millionaire. "Artemis Fowl" is all that and only 12 years old.

Some reviewers have touted this novel, written by Eoin (pronounced Owen) Colfer, an Irish middle-school teacher, as a "pot of gold." They're dazzled by the adventure and predict that Artemis Fowl will become a household name.

Already publishers and the reading public are touting Artemis Fowl as the next Harry Potter. Like the Potter series, "Artemis Fowl" has stirred up a whirlwind in the publishing world. The book was auctioned by Penguin Puffin UK and sold to Marimax Films (it will become a major motion picture in 2002) and Talk Miramax Books for a six-figure amount, including a three-book contract. The International rights for the trilogy were sold to 17 countries, with translation rights beginning immediately.

Artemis and Harry are both pre-teens, and the target audience might be considered the same. But that is where the similarity ends. Artemis Fowl is not a likable kid. He's arrogant and bossy. He uses his out-of-scale intelligence to attain personal goals (regain the family fortune and become head of the Fowl empire). He schemes and manipulates his adversaries (the fairies, leprechauns, centaurs and gnomes) in a mission to attain a Fairy Book containing all the magic and symbols passed down through the ages. When he has that he will be able to seek the fairies' hidden gold.

But this is not just a battle between "The People" (the magic creatures) and "The Mud People" (humans) who "destroyed everything they came into contact with. Of course they didn't live in the mud anymore. . . . big fancy dwellings with rooms for everything."

These untraditional creatures are high-tech. They use magnetic bolts (no flathead or Phillips screwdrivers here!), scanners, reactivators, viewcams and activated flying apparatuses with multiphase, water-cooled, tribarreled blasters strapped to the hip.

Their SWAT teams are called LEPrecon Units (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance).

What fun "Artemis Fowl" is!

There's swashbuckling adventure to satisfy just about any age reader. Some of the complexity of the plot comes from blending cutting edge technology with classical fairy-tale magic.

The characters are delightful. There's the feisty fairy Holly Short and headstrong Captain Root of the LEP Unit; Mulch Duggins, a kleptomaniac dwarf, and the other-worldly creatures. Artemis' bodyguard Butler, an expert in martial arts, and Artemis' sickly mother add balance to the cast who support the child over-achiever.

One of the elements in the story I enjoyed most was the humor. Colfer freely takes swipes at the Irish and jests about fairy godmothers, tossing in references to traditional lore that will delight the more sophisticated reader.

Throughout the book, the author has included a code that runs along the bottom of each page. Readers are invited to crack the code or go online for help at www.artemisfowl.com.

Colfer is the author of other books for children and young adults including "Beeny and Omar," "Benny and Babe," "The Funny Feet" and a play for adult audiences, "The Lord of Love." He lives with his wife and 33-year-old son, Finn, in Wexford, Ireland.


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