It does not look as if Artemis, afflicted with the Atlantis Complex, first identified by Dr E. Dypess – also known for his hit song, Im in two minds about you – will be free of this enfeebling condition very soon. So for much of the novel his friends, fairy and human, must cope without him as they struggle against the deadly amorphobots unleashed by arch-villain Turnball Root from his prison cell in Atlantis.
I suspect that the central joke worked better in synopsis than it plays out in the novel. Orion is funny but Im not sure that he is funny enough for the trade-off – which requires filling the hole left by Artemiss absence on sick leave. True, it means that other characters, in particular the splendidly feisty Holly Short, are pushed to the fore. On the other hand, Orion is a buffoon, and while you may laugh, you may also, like Holly, feel like hitting him and fervently wish that the real Arty would hurry back.
When the (almost) fully-functioning Artemis does return, albeit intermittently, after a series of electric shocks, two thirds of the way through the novel, it comes as a relief, and subsequent scenes with his mother Angeline, centaur Foaly, dwarf Mulch Diggums, et al, are a comic delight.
Prominence is also given to the villains sentimental motivation – indeed, fairy Turnballs devotion to his human wife is movingly portrayed. Yet within the context of an action adventure, electing to have a hero who annoys and a villain who elicits sympathy does run the risk of sapping the narrative energy. That said, Colfers humour and brilliant inventiveness more than compensate for plotting that doesnt entirely satisfy. Its easy to enjoy his homage to WWF (wrestling not wildlife), Mulch Diggums flatulently ingenious moves against the amorphobot, the admirable hit rate of one-liners, and the wry, unpatronising voice that children love, which seems to say, Youre with me, you understand the irony.
The Atlantis Complex is the seventh and penultimate title in the series and while it works as a novel in its own right, it is also clearly a prelude to the grand finale. So when, in the closing pages, Artemis says to Holly: This adventure was different ... Usually someone wins and we are better off at the end ... I cant even think of Turnball as a villain, we can be sure that Colfer has his mind focused on completing the character arc started all that time ago with the kidnapping of a hi-tech-fairy by an arrogant boy genius who, for all his cleverness, had so much to learn. So were just going to have to wait and see how Colfer brings the curtain down on this deservedly popular and successful series that continues to showcase one of the best comic voices in contemporary childrens fiction.