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Friday, Sept. 27, 2002

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident," "Jake's Tower"


"Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident," Eoin Colfer, Puffin Books; 2002; 288 pp.

The risk with sequels is that they don't always live up to the expectations generated by the first book. But this story is clearly an exception.

It's the same winning formula as the original -- narrow escapes, ambushes, betrayals and surprises to keep you hooked till the end -- but with fresh revelations to explain the criminal machinations of our 13-year-old hero, Artemis Fowl.

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Two weeks ago, we looked at the first book, in which Artemis kidnaps Capt. Holly Short, a member of an elite police unit of the fairy world. In this new, deftly written tale, Capt. Short and her police team are in trouble again. Foaly, the tech-savvy centaur who helped to rescue her last time, is locked up in his office and can't bail out his friends. The mud-eating dwarf Mulch Diggums, who hoodwinked Cmdr. Root and absconded with a generous share of the gold ransom, is showing off his kleptomaniac skills again. And Cmdr. "Beetroot" himself has plenty more cause to live up to his nickname -- he's getting redder by the minute.

If the first escapade left you wondering what makes Artemis Fowl so likable despite his being so bad, this one makes it clear: It's because he's not all bad.

Artemis has turned 13, but he hasn't turned over a new leaf. St. Bartleby's School for Young Gentlemen doesn't stand a chance at making a gentleman out of him.

If there's anything that will, it's one more meeting with the fairies, to prove that Artemis is a villain -- with a heart. Fairies and Fowl were sworn enemies in the first book; now they have to team up against a common adversary.

Anyone who's read Part I, and knows what Artemis is like, will laugh at that. He can't be trusted: That's what Capt. Short thinks, too, when she finds that the goblins are hatching a plot to take over the fairy world. She's convinced he's helping them.

Capt. Short wants nothing to do with her archenemy, Artemis. The last time they met, he got her into so much trouble that her position on the police unit is under review. But she has old scores to settle with Artemis, and this might be the perfect opportunity.

This time, Artemis can't do what he loves most -- creating problems for others -- because he's got some of his own. His father is being held for ransom and the rescue mission is impossible without help of the magical kind.

The action unfolds in three different settings: the familiar human world that Artemis inhabits; the high-tech underground land of the fairies; and the freezing Arctic, where Artemis' father is being held hostage.

One warning: Don't start liking Artemis too much. He's a Fowl and he won't stay out of trouble for long.

For children 10 years and older. Available at online bookstores and soon to be available at Tower Records Shibuya 7F. To inquire, call (03) 3496-3661.

"Jake's Tower," Elizabeth Laird, Macmillan Children's Books; 2002; 154 pp.

We've all built castles in the air at some time or another. Not Jake, though.

He builds a tower.

It's tall and thin, with a moat all around it. The only way across is a drawbridge. And at the very top of the tower is his room, so high up that no one else can get up there. Not even Jake's stepfather, Steve.

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Jake's got every reason to escape from Steve -- it doesn't take much to make his mother's boyfriend mad. Jake's home is a nightmare, and so he dreams up an escape route in his mind -- a huge balloon tied to the balcony of his tower room, with a basket below. If Steve gets up to the tower, Jake could clamber into the basket, untie the rope and float away.

Even if he can't float away in real life.

But now things are different. Jake's mother is pregnant with Steve's baby, and Jake will soon have a little sister to worry about. And he wonders if his real father, whom he's never seen, will come to his rescue.

This is a moving book about finding strength in tough situations, about how Jake and his mother find an escape route -- though it doesn't come in the form of a big balloon. This story has a rare honesty -- not all homes are safe, not all families are happy. But with a little bit of faith and plenty of courage, Jake makes some of his dreams come true.

He doesn't get his dream tower, but what he does get more than makes up for it.

For children 9-11 years. Available at online bookstores.

E-mail Payal Kapadia about this new fortnightly column or about the Education page in general at payal@japantimes.co.jp



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