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Review: Children's fiction: Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

This week marked the end of an era in children's books as the eighth and last adventure in the phenomenally successful Artemis Fowl fantasy series by Eoin Colfer appeared.

Famously described by one eminent critic as 'Die Hard with fairies', the books for children and young adults have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. And, like Harry Potter, they will go on selling in huge numbers for decades to come.

One of the big attractions was that the Irish child-prodigy hero, Artemis Fowl, was far from being a goody-goody.

The series began in 2001 with 12-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis holding a leprechaun to ransom to get his hands on the fairy gold. But he took on more than he bargained for when he kidnapped Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Unit).

The books went on from there, creating a hi-tech fantasy world laced with action and humour which older children and teenagers everywhere loved. They may have been about fairies and leprechauns, but there was more than a touch of Blade Runner in this menacing underworld.

This mix made the fantasy world in the books a unique creation, blending fairytales and folklore with hi-tech gadgetry. There was also a glorious air of irreverence about the proceedings.

"Full of farting, gentle mockery and subversiveness" was how one reader summed it up, which is one reason it will be sadly missed by younger devotees everywhere.

Published in 44 countries, the series has made Colfer, a former teacher from Wexford, one of the wealthiest Irish writers, leaving the big-name literary authors and even most of the chick-lit stars trailing in his wake. Not that he does it for the money. The jokes and one-liners in the Fowl books show he mainly does it for fun.

In this last book, Artemis has moved on from being the teenage criminal mastermind to (his own description) a juvenile genius. So he's as big-headed as ever and as impatient with those less gifted beings he comes in contact with.

But Artemis has definitely become one of the good guys, even if his criminal tendencies are just beneath the surface. The pace is relentless.

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The Berserkers are creating appalling trouble that threatens the future of the world. Opal Koboi, a power-crazed pixie if ever there was one, is plotting to exterminate mankind and become fairy queen.

If she succeeds, the spirits of long-dead fairy warriors will rise from the earth, inhabit the nearest available bodies and wreak mass destruction.

But what happens if those nearest bodies include birds or animals -- or two curious little boys by the names of Myles and Beckett Fowl?

Yes, Artemis's four-year-old brothers could be involved in destroying the human race. It's down to Artemis and Holly to put a stop to the evil madness.

It's one of the best in the series and will not disappoint young fans. The ending is appropriately climactic -- and to give anything away would be far more criminal than anything Artemis has got up to in the past.

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