For a book-loving child, nothing is more exciting than a row of unread volumes in a newly discovered fiction series. It may sound strange, but it's true: characters in books can become the most reliable friends in a young person's life. A century ago kids were reading the Boxcar Children. Then Tom Swift flew onto the scene with a new invention under each arm. Four generations have cut their teeth on the reckless escapades of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, whose fresh adventures are now packaged to resemble more contemporary favorites, like the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High.
These days, as everybody knows, the series most young readers are anxiously following is the one featuring the boy with the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Every Muggle child on Earth, it seems, is walking around with a J.K. Rowling book in his or her hand, talking about Harry and Ron and Hermione as if they sit beside them at school.
Thanks largely to Rowling, who single-handedly inspired the children's bestseller list, fantasy series in general are flourishing. In fact, we've discovered several worthy alternatives to the Potter chronicles. In between updates from Hogwarts, kids can turn to the exciting new series spotlighted below.
Battling the Queen of Elves
Terry Pratchett is the author of, among many other things, the Discworld books, a series set in a crazy world where magic works (sometimes), and children and frogs converse like Monty Python characters. Pratchett's books have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. An utterly unpredictable author, he seems to have cobbled together Discworld from medieval superstitions, Victorian novels and a host of fairy tales, all of which are filtered through his modern and intelligent sensibility. His books are often both suspenseful and funny. Best of all, he doesn't cushion his satirical punches. In the recent Carnegie Award-winning The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, a cat rants about government, and rats debate what happens after death.
In the latest Discworld volume, The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, $16.99, 224 pages, ISBN 0060012366), smart young Tiffany Aching finds herself uneasily allied with a wild clan of six-inch-high blue men who help her battle the Queen of the Elves. Along the way, she bests villains, monsters and patronizing adults.
Pratchett's dialogue, as always, is outrageously funny. It's typical of him to put a new spin on classical creatures like fairies and leprechauns. The flying fairies in The Wee Free Men are as scary as the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, and Pratchett's grimhounds are fully worthy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. But the chief delight here is the character of Tiffany, a tough, bright heroine.
A one-of-a-kind hero
Any child who has wearied of the virtuous and heroic Harry Potter will delight in the subversive series about Artemis Fowl, written by Irish novelist Eoin Colfer. Artemis, it appears, is giving Harry a run for his money. The third installment in his adventures, Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, has a first printing of 250,000 copies.
Colfer's young hero is a genius, a criminal mastermind who concocts world-class schemes usually involving stolen Fairy technology. It's easy to imagine the pleasure a young reader will have following his newest escapades. The Eternity Code is a wild tale replete with spies, high-tech inventions, unreliable magic and military centaurs. Artemis' adventures occur all over Earth and, not surprisingly, elsewhere. This time around, the young whiz has constructed a supercomputer from Fairy secrets that, of course, he stole. Does he pay for his crimes? In misadventures, yes.
A cross between Han Solo, Harry Potter and Encyclopedia Brown, Artemis is a one-of-a-kind. With such a wild inheritance Colfer's novels seldom veer toward cliché. His books are long and solid and, like Pratchett's, they lack illustrations. These are stories for older readers who are ready to sink their teeth into a meaty novel.
The amazing Graces
Tony DiTerlizzi is the artist responsible for last year's acclaimed picture book The Spider and the Fly. Before tackling children's books, he illustrated games such as Dungeons & Dragons and the trading card series Magic the Gathering. Lately, he has focused his talents on a five-book series co-created with fantasy novelist Holly Black. "The Spiderwick Chronicles," a new series from Simon and Schuster, tell the story of the three Grace siblings—twins Jared and Simon and their older sister Mallory. When their parents divorce, they move with their mother into a relative's decrepit old house. Jared, the trouble-prone underachiever, is the viewpoint character. In the attic he finds a field guide to faeries and soon sees evidence of them all around—the premise upon which the books are based.
The first two Spiderwick entries are The Field Guide ($9.95, 128 pages, ISBN 0689859368) and The Seeing Stone ($9.95, 128 pages, ISBN 0689859376). The first suspenseful volume lays the necessary groundwork and permits the reader to eavesdrop on Jared's initial puzzling discoveries. Packed with misadventures that will inspire sympathy in readers, both books are fast-paced, with line drawings and full-color paintings that are richly detailed. This fall, the Grace kids' adventures will continue with the publication of Lucinda's Secret.
A dreadful scene
The first book in a trilogy by popular children's author Philip Ardagh, A House Called Awful End stars 11-year-old Eddie Dickens. The first sentence will pull in readers who enjoy Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket: "When Eddie Dickens was eleven years old, both his parents caught some awful disease that made them turn yellow, go a bit crinkly around the edges, and smell of old hot-water bottles." The hero is named Dickens for a reason. The story takes place in a kind of cartoon-Dickensian London, and Eddie runs into enough misfortunes and eccentrics for an Oliver Twist or a David Copperfield.
Dreadful Acts (Henry Holt, $14.95, 144 pages, ISBN 0805071555), the sequel to Awful End, has just been published, and the third installment in the series will arrive in the fall. Although it lacks the wit and sophistication of the Discworld and Artemis Fowl tales, the series is endlessly jokey and playful. Many a child will laugh aloud at parenthetical snide remarks, and the illustrations by David Roberts have a very contemporary spookiness. Like the other series, the Eddie Dickens books make the human race look alarmingly freakish, which, as these authors understand, is pretty much how kids view the adult world.
Viking will publish Michael Sims' new book, Adam's Navel, in August. Copyright 2003 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Fall
Artemis and Captain Holly Short are at it again, this time attempting to thwart the evil Spiro's theft of an ingenious device Artemis has designed that (inadvertently) puts the fairy world in danger. There's plenty of snappy dialogue, badass posturing, and blow-by-blow fight scenes, but by the end the characters and story are right back where they started, which means that the next book in the series is completely free to do the same thing all over again. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 March #5
Even better than The Arctic Incident, this third fantasy thriller starring Artemis Fowl pits the 13-year-old criminal mastermind against his most cunning adversary yet-American billionaire Jon Spiro, owner of the high-tech firm Fission Chips. Artemis Fowl's father, while recuperating from the brush with death he suffered in the last installment, makes a stunning announcement: he wants the family to turn over a new leaf and hew to the straight and narrow. Fortunately for readers, Artemis has other plans. "One last adventure, then the Fowls could be a proper family," he decides. After all, what could go wrong? Everything, as it turns out. Artemis's scheme to extract one metric ton of gold from Spiro, in exchange for keeping the C Cube-a beyond-state-of-the-art computer he's built using pirated fairy technology-off the market, backfires spectacularly. In order to save Butler, his bodyguard, and set things back to rights in the fairy world, Artemis joins forces with Butler's sister Juliet and drafts the help of the usual suspects (elf captain Holly Short, computer-geek centaur Foaly, flatulent dwarf Mulch Diggums). Once again, Colfer serves up a high-intensity plot involving cryogenics and a mobster mentality as the action hurtles toward the climactic break-in at Chicago's Spiro Needle. Agile prose (Jon Spiro is "thin as a javelin" ), rapid-fire dialogue and wise-acre humor ("Goblins. Evolution's little joke. Pick the dumbest creatures on the planet and give them the ability to conjure fire") ensure that readers will burn the midnight oil to the finish. (The ending leaves the door wide open for yet another sequel.) Ages 12-up. (May) FYI: A one-day laydown on May 6 and a 10-city author tour are planned. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. #
School Library Journal Reviews 2003 July
Gr 5-8-Antihero Artemis Fowl, now 13 years old, is back. He has used stolen fairy technology to create a supercomputer known as the "C Cube," which will render all existing technology obsolete. He meets with Jon Spiro, head of "Fission Chips," with a proposition. For a price, he will suppress his cube, and allow Spiro time to sell his potentially worthless stocks and buy into Fowl Industries. Spiro double-crosses Artemis, and in the ensuing melee he steals the C Cube and Artemis's bodyguard, Butler, is murdered. The scene is totally out of James Bond; one fully expects to hear the familiar theme music and to see the credits as it concludes. The action does not let up as Artemis teams with the fairy policewoman Captain Holly Short and other companions to bring Butler back to life, and then to retrieve the Cube from Spiro's Chicago fortress. The plot is filled with crosses and double crosses, unmarked vans, and impenetrable security systems. It's exciting stuff, but the writing is often clichéd at worst, and merely workmanlike at best. Butler's death scene is particularly hackneyed, echoing every overly dramatic death scene one can think of. Still, this latest adventure is sure to be popular with fans of the series.-Tim Wadham, Maricopa County Library District, Phoenix, AZ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2003 October
Thirteen-year-old master criminal Artemis Fowl has promised his father that he will go straight, but not before he has celebrated one last illicit triumph. Fowl wants to make an under-the-counter deal with Jon Spiro, a Chicago businessman with serious mob connections. The boy has created a new super-computer, the C Cube, using illicit fairy technology, and he has convinced Spiro that the machine would do serious damage to his financial empire if Artemis sells it to competitors. Instead, he proposes accepting a bribe from Spiro to keep the new computer off the market. The businessman turns the tables, however, ambushing Artemis, stealing the device, and leaving the boy's faithful and heretofore impregnable bodyguard Butler mortally wounded. To save Butler's life and recover the C Cube before Spiro can use it to dominate the world, Artemis must contact his old enemy and unwilling ally, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon fairy police, for aid. He must also get help from Butler's half-trained sister Juliet, a decidedly loose cannon, and a foul-mouthed dwarf thief named Mulch. Readers who made the first two Artemis Fowl books bestsellers will also enjoy this latest installment, which again features Colfer's trademark broad humor, engaging if flat characters, and high-speed action, not to mention the unlikely mix of magic and technology. The series continues to be a good read but lacks the depth found in the fantasies of Diana Wynne Jones or J. K. Rowling.-Michael Levy. 3Q 5P M J Copyright 2003 Voya Reviews