The ARTEMIS FOWL series in general has always been amusing, but after the first couple installments it rather lost the feel of being the breath of fresh air it seemed when the first novel rolled around. Eoin Colfer is never less than witty, and his premise and characters remain lively, but there has been an increasing sense that the series and the protagonists have been treading water a bit. Artemis’s world is like a slightly daring sitcom: at the end of each adventure there’s one token change that seems impactful, but the status quo for the next installment promises to be more or less the same.
The Last Guardian doesn’t do much to alter this state of affairs, but on the other hand there’s nothing particularly wrong with the flow and style of it either. In comparison to book 1 it certainly suffers, but then all the subsequent novels have shared that looming issue, so much so that at this point it’s hard to even detract points for it. It’s a given. What does take points from the book is how much it feels, for a finale, like just another installment ready to lead into the next one. Comparable young adult series like HARRY POTTER or PERCY JACKSON have ended their runs with cataclysmic battles, loose ends being tied up, and character relationships resolved. The Last Guardian does have a battle, but even with the usual doomsday device it feels a bit tame compared to previous struggles, and there’s actually not a lot of resolution at the end.
Then again, I’m beginning to feel on reflection that Colfer’s real problem here was that he already did resolve the series, way back in book three. The major themes of the ARTEMIS FOWL series have generally been, in order: Artemis’s maturation, human-fairy interaction, and domestic happiness in the Fowl household. All three of these had more or less been covered in The Eternity Code. Artemis was capable of selflessness, the fairies recognized the fact, and both Fowl parents were safe and well. Granted, there was the possibility he might undo it all, but it didn’t detract from the fact that the journey felt complete.
All the books since have covered familiar territory. Artemis is still a good chap. He and Holly maintain a Mulder & Scully-style unstated but simmering romantic tension. Butler is a decent fellow who… actually doesn’t have much to do in terms of character moments now that his employer is also a decent fellow. Foaly is nerdy, Opal Koboi is ridiculously narcissistic, Mulch is a bottomless pit of fart jokes improbably hanging around for one more adventure with ever-flimsier excuses as to why. That’s the status quo at the beginning of this little romp, and (mild spoiler) basically the status quo once it’s over.
All of this isn’t to say that The Last Guardian isn’t fun. It’s cute and witty, and Colfer clearly tries to go out on a little extra pizzazz, infusing the final text with a bit more energy than the series had enjoyed for the prior two or three installments. The extra oomph he puts into it, however, really does feel like just that: an extra helping of the usual material. It’s the same old stuff with a little bit of added urgency, nothing more. There is a moment at the end that comes close to being really significant, but Colfer can’t seem to quite convince himself to pull it off.
I suppose my feelings on that are apparent, but overall I can’t say it’s a terrible thing. For the faithful readers who have followed this series purely because they enjoy the characters and the jokes, this will be a fun and entertaining installment with no shortage of laughs. It will even feel a little more briskly paced and suspenseful than some of Colfer’s other works. If all one wants out of an ARTEMIS FOWL book at this point is a bit of charm, some wry humor, and a final trip on the merry-go-round with Artemis, Holly, and Butler, then it should neatly satisfy all expectations and then some. Those looking here for some sort grand moment of closure, however, probably will not find it.