Dr. Dan's Elixir
|Potent Magic for Young Minds|
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Hyperion, Copyright © 2001
Age Group: 12 up
Harry Potter has turned to the dark side of the force. He has become a
minion of Lord Voldemort and changed his name to Artemis Fowl. As Fowl, he
twists the good magic he learned to the under side where magic is used for one's
own exultation. Fowl thinks of himself as the world's greatest criminal
mastermind and we, the reader, are expected to accept this affirmation without a
second thought. J. K. Rowling can relax. The Fowl series will not overcome the
Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is the most ingenious criminal mastermind in
the history of the world (or so he says). Artemis Fowl needs to save his family
from going broke due to some criminal mishaps of the previous generation of
Fowls. Artemis plots to plunder the leprecons of most or all of their end-of-the-rainbow gold. Aided by his personal assistant Butler (clearly as ingenious a name
as Fowl) he sets out to put his plans into action. However, he does not expect to
deal with an agent from LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance unit)
named Holly and her boss Director Root.
Perhaps it's just me, but I have a hard time caring about a protagonist who's
really the bad guy. Fowl is not even a reformed bad guy trying to gain redemption.
Nor is he a good guy being forced to do evil by some greater power or seduced by
a greater power. I look for a character with depth, a sense of moral justice, and a
personal weakness that makes him/her someone with whom I may identify. There
is nothing charismatic about Artemis Fowl. I prefer a reluctant hero such as Ender
Wiggin or Thomas Covenant. Someone who doesn't want to play the game in
which they find themselves. Thus, Artemis was annoying. I wanted to see him fail
in his efforts to rob the fairy world of their gold to save the criminal dwindling
dynasty of his family. I did not find the plot to be fantastical; most of the other
characters were annoying (especially LEPrecon director Root). Holly the
LEPrecon agent sent in to solve the problem was ineffective. The only character
with depth was Foaly, the centaur. Reminiscent of Q from the bond series of
movies, Foaly is the creative inventor of all of LEPrecon's gadgets and is as quick
with a witty or sarcastic remark as Bond himself.
Many have called this book a "romp" but I think of it more as a "stomp." It
stomped my desire to ever read another Artemis Fowl romp right out of my head.
My feelings about this book and my reading experience are ho hum. It's as well
written as any constant reader would want, but there is no real surprise to the
ending because Colfer never really makes Fowl as dark a character as is needed
for this story to work. Fowl instead comes off as a bad sort with a hidden heart of
gold (no pun intended). Yes, at the end Fowl does the right thing, er, at least half
the right thing. The narrative reads well and fast. Save the Fowl series for when
you have nothing better to read -- like on vacation with your parents. Vacation
usually casts an entirely different light upon the things we do and read. In other
words, Artemis Fowl's attraction could increase exponentially compared to the
third visit to Sea World or some other attraction or activity your parents think you
will enjoy or is good for you.
Eoin Colfer is not a bad writer. Check out The Supernaturalist. It's one of
my most favorite books.
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
Little-Brown, Copyright © 2005
Age Group: 15 up
Maximum Ride is a young adult science fiction novel based on another
thriller known as When The Wind Blows by James Patterson. Book bios say that
Mr. Patterson is the worldwide best selling author of thrillers. Nevertheless,
having read both they have run together in my mind as one story. So the review
I'm writing here is somewhat generic in nature. Even so, Maximum Ride: The
Angel Experiment was the best read of all, and if you read it you don't need to
waste your time with the other.
It is a story of genetic engineering and the associated tragedy and trauma. It
is also a tale of survival and triumph. It is the saga of several children who belong
to the same "flock" ranging in ages ten to seventeen. They take a daring chance at
escape from the doctors who have manipulated their DNA. In the lab they are kept
in animal cages and treated with contempt. Often put to sleep for insignificant
reasons. Did I forget to mention that these youth have been genetically designed
for flight? With nine and ten foot wingspans, these kids can really fly. As my pilot
brother said of Superman: The Movie, "It's the best flying I've ever seen." Every
time they went into a rapid dive or climbed to great heights on thermal winds, in
my mind's eye, I was there and it gave me chills.
Babies for the Angel Experiment are acquired through bogus clinics across
the country. The stolen infants are spirited off to the secret lab somewhere in the
Rocky Mountains. If the book has a weakness, it's because we never know who
the real villain is. We don't ever know who's funding the experiments, why they
are doing this, where the money comes from or who will benefit. Are they thinking
of an army of winged soldiers who don't need parachutes? Do they want to harvest
the stronger hearts and other organs that have increased capacity for flight? We
never know and are forced to accept the doctors and lab technicians as the only
enemy when we know there's someone else. Is it the CIA, FBI, NSA, DOE, CID
or some other government agency? It is suggested in the book that it is the
government, but whoever it is must have very deep pockets.
At first one is left to feel that some of the doctors are involved for pure
science while others are forced to participate to save their lives. However as the
book progresses one soon becomes introduced to all the doctors and none have
redeeming qualities. Here's a good example of how all the people who interact
with the flock behave. The winged children call the head of the security team
"Uncle." In the lab he brings them treats and tells them he loves them. Later he
uses this love to get them to go peacefully when it's time for that particular child
to be put down or hunted in the mountains after escape. Uncle comes along, talks
them down from the tree by telling the angel that he loves them. Once he has them
at hand, it's back to the lab.
Maximum Ride (Max) is the brain behind the escape and a co-leader of the
flock. Max is so smart that the doctors at the lab put her to work entering data and
such. This kept her from having to spend as much time in the animal cages and
provided the opportunity to explore the data and find out what was going on
within the organization. In doing so she learns just enough to get them out of the
lab and into a limited freedom.
This was the second delightful book I read about children who could fly. In
this case, however, the children could really fly and without the aid of helium
filled water wings. The descriptions of their graceful flying makes one feel like
jumping out of a second story window. For anyone who ever wanted to fly, this is
the book. You might want to also check out Growing Wings by Laurel Winter.
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Hyperion, Copyright © 2004
Age Group: 12 up
Here lies a perfectly plausible prequel to Peter Pan. I think Barrie would be
happy with this book rather than turning over in his grave. (Can the dead really do
that? I wonder.) Peter and the lost boys are orphans being sent to King Zarboff to
be slaves. Also aboard the ship is a strange trunk. Later we discover it's full of
Who are Starcatchers? They are the very ones who collect Starstuff. Point in
fact, they find it and stash it to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Starstuff
is very powerful for something as ethereal as Pixie dust. Just a tiny bit can make
you fly like a bird. A whole trunk load would allow you to conquer the world and
live forever. Starcatchers keep this from happening by collecting all the starstuff
that falls from the heavens and then guarding it forever. Makes one think of the
Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. Just imagine what King Zarboff could do
with it. Starstuff is so powerful that just touching the truck wherein it hides can
lift you off your feet and make you hear tiny bells ringing. That alone can be very
Peter finds himself in the midst of a struggle to keep the Starstuff out of evil
hands. He is also introduced to Molly who at age thirteen is herself a starcatcher.
Peter comes to her aid and is soon her ally in the battle to keep Starstuff out of
pirate hands. It is here that we meet the future Captain Hook, although in this
book he has both hands and goes by the name of Black Stache, so named for his
very long mustache. We also discover the origins of all the characters in Never
There is only one thing that annoyed me during the reading of this book.
Black Stache has a very limited vocabulary when he's upset. Throughout the book
he calls anyone who crosses his path and makes him angry an idjit. Idjit? From
the mouth of a ferocious pirate? Without resorting to swearing, surely the authors
could have found or created some other words he could call people. Like, you twit
or you dope. I looked idjit up in several dictionaries and could find no definition
of the word. Idjit appears on nearly every page of the book and becomes as
annoying as a fly buzzing around your head. It's a ridiculous word, especially
from the foul mouth of a pirate. I'm sure the authors were trying to conform to
young adult reading standards but they needed to vary Black Stache's swearing
vocabulary. It's not hard to come with alternatives. Just watch: you peeling puss
dripping porpoise waste. You lump of whale barf. What about traditional sea
going threats like; another word out of you and a good keelhauling is what you'll
get. You incompetent nincompoop. Shut up you barnacle. Get out of my way
you giant piece of pulsating whale blubber. Shall I go on or is it clear that Captain
Black Stache could have been more expressive without resulting to real swearing?
It requires a huge suppression of disbelief to accept a pirate as the meanest and
vilest in the world when the only word that comes out of his mouth in anger is
River Rats by Caroline Stevermer
Harcourt, Copyright © 1992
Age Group: 12 up
I was enamored with this book when I read it ten years ago. Having just re-read it for this column, I find I love the book even more. I must admit that post-apocalyptic science fiction is my favorite genre -- that may prove to introduce
some bias on my part. All things being equal, River Rats is one of those kinds of
books that never leave your mind. I give my highest recommendation of this book
and wish I were a river rat myself.
The River Rat is a paddle-wheel steamboat built to be a museum. For a long
time after the flash (sounds nuclear but was a neotyphoid or some other
pestilence), she served as an orphanage for children. That should tell you that she
is a full size boat with lots of cabins. A huge storm comes up and to save the River
Rat several children who have been studying how such ships were handled in their
day, come together to save the ship. They stoke up the fire and fill the boilers with
water. The River Rat gets away in time to keep from being dashed to pieces
against the pier.
Eventually the crew of the River Rat comes down to six kids ranging from
twelve to sixteen or seventeen. The crew consists of Esteban (pilot), Toby
(captain), Spike (boiler room and engines), Lindsy (Karate Kid), Jake (soundings,
engine room, pilot) and Tomcat (prime soundings). The story is told from
Tomcat's point of view.
Each of the characters is unique and we are given enough information about
them to keep them from becoming cardboard stand-ups. For example: Toby is
captain of the ship. A 14- or 15-year-old girl who wears a baggy coat and a top
hat. No one would guess she was a girl. Toby is an excellent captain and gives
unbiased orders in a soft but stern manner. None of the other crew would dare to
argue with her. Esteban is pretty colorful as well. He has a habit of walking into a
discussion and letting lose with one of his wisdoms. "Breath is the greatest
strength. Physical strength must be the handservant of spiritual strength" and even
The Rats sail up and down the poison Mississippi and survive by trading
rock concerts (each plays a different instrument) for food and supplies. They also
carry the mail up and down the river. This, and foraging in the ruins, keeps food in
their stomachs and coal in the River Rat's fireboxes.
The River Rats have a rule -- no passengers. Passengers bring bad luck!
Soon they are forced to take on a passenger to keep the man from drowning. His
name is King and that's where the trouble begins. It isn't long before they are
attacked and boarded by evil Lesters. The Lesters force the River Rat back up the
river to a ruined city I imagine to be St. Louis. The Rats and Mr. King must search
the city for the Pharaoh's tomb where it is rumored that guns exist. It has been so
long since the flash that most people who had guns have run out of ammunition.
With new guns and ammunition the Lesters could rule their world.
While in the city they are captured by the legendary wild boys. The wild
boys are reminiscent of the lost boys of Peter Pan fame. They are indeed wild but
not too wild to have a leader and others of rank or hunt together to support
themselves. When you join the wild boys all of your hair is cut off. You can tell
how long someone has been a wild boy by the length of his or her filthy hair. The
wild boys are an interesting and fun diversion but they really have little to do with
the main plot.
River Rats has won the following awards: The Minnesota Book Award, The
Golden Duck Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction, An ALA Best Book
for Young Adults Award and A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.
Give it a try, as there's nothing to lose.
Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes - Contains a great premise for a story
with the potential for very likeable and real characters. Invitation comes as close to
being good writing as paint-by-numbers comes to being art. Don't waste your