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“The Eternity Code,” “The Countess’s Calamity”

by Payal Kapadia

“The Eternity Code,” Eoin Colfer, Puffin Books; 2003; 329 pp.

The 13-year-old, pint-size mastermind of every heist known to man — or to fairy — is back. And in the latest installment of the “Artemis Fowl” series, time is running out not for Artemis’ poor adversaries, but for him. His father, rescued from the Russian mafia in the previous book, wants the Fowl dynasty to go straight. But our hardworking boy-criminal wants to pull off just one more teensy-weensy, money-making scam before he gives up his life of crime.

This time Fowl is trying to cash in on technology that he stole from the fairy people in the first book. His latest victim: American tycoon Jon Spiro. Artemis threatens to put Spiro out of business by releasing the C Cube, whose omni-sensors can read any signal, “electrical or organic” (even fairy signals). If word of the C Cube gets out, Spiro’s communications technology will be rendered useless overnight — unless, of course Spiro can make it worth Artemis’ while to sit tight on this revolutionary piece of equipment.

When Artemis takes on a fellow human, though, he makes an enemy who may not be as smart as the fairies, but who is far more willing to play dirty. Spiro seizes the C Cube, but finds that getting his hands on slippery Artemis is another matter. He needs Artemis because the boy-genius has built an “eternity code” into the cube that prevents it from being used by anyone but him. Spiro won’t stop at anything — he’ll hurt, maim, kill, do all those things that humans are superlatively good at doing and that have kept fairies away from humans for so long.

The fairy world is in danger of being discovered and — let it be safely assumed — destroyed, unless Fowl and fairies can work together (oh no, not again!) to retrieve the cube. And of course, along the way, they penetrate Spiro headquarters in downtown Chicago (Colfer’s version of Fort Knox); conduct an astounding demo of the latest fairy gizmos; introduce Fowl’s new female bodyguard; and teach Spiro that no one, I mean no one, messes with Fowl and gets away with it.

Many series into their third installment start to lose steam. But not “Artemis Fowl.” Here Colfer is at his best, giving us a slick-as-a-Hollywood-flick read that’s so with it and so unrelenting, it leaves us panting for more. Once again, he aims a barrage of criticism at humans (Mud Men) in general, holding up as prime example of the species, Spiro, an unscrupulous businessman with few qualms about making big money any way possible.

This a perfect page-turner, but I do wish that Colfer would slow it down somewhat. His characters go hurtling from one incident to another, with no pause for thought. He’s also getting rather attached to Artemis — the fairies get stuck with what feel like only supporting roles this time around.

This latest episode sets up, without any doubt, not only the fact that there will be another sequel, but also the direction it will take.

Colfer seems to be in danger of giving too much away. Unless, of course, he is only toying with his readers in the interim — letting us think that we know what’s coming next so that he can overturn our expectations. I wouldn’t put such Artemis-like machinations past him.

For children 10-14 years. Available at Kinokuniya, Shinjuku, tel. (03) 3354-0131, and at Tower Records Shibuya, 7F, tel. (03) 3496-3661.

“The Countess’s Calamity,” Sally Gardner, Bloomsbury; 2003; 127 pp.

Presenting: a big-hearted story about little people.

In fact, the people of this warm, entertaining Toy Story are so little, they fit inside a box that gets left under a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. They’re dolls, but their dilemma is a familiar one for humans — should they dare to push open the lid and see what lies outside, or keep waiting to be found?

There’s Quilt, the sailor doll; Boolar, in his smart suit; Stitch, the boy doll; Ting Tang, a cloth doll with a smiling face; and the Countess who’s about to learn — the hard way — that she might be royalty where she comes from, but out in the park, she’s just a doll in a left-behind box.

Here they all are wondering about their purpose — have they been boxed up as a present for a new owner, or have they simply been forgotten? As it happens, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse pop their heads into the box, after they find it blocking their front door.

The two mice take the bewildered dolls in — all of them but the Countess, who’d rather be back in the Land of Lounge, with her silver tea service and her red-plush chair.

The mice introduce the dolls to life in the Land of Park — where the sun shines and the winds blow freely, but perils lurk at every corner. There’s the park keeper who pins up lost dolls on his cart; his cat, Mr. Cuddles; and of course, legs, hundreds of big legs and small legs.

Not that any of this concerns the Countess, who climbs into her box and stays there. As her label indicates, says the Countess, she’s too “delicate” to mingle with common toys — or with mice. In fact, she is to be “washed separately.”

And while the Countess sits around in her box feeling delicate, along comes Mr. Cuddles . . .

Sure, this is a story that has been told many times before — of the pride that comes before a fall; and the folly of being too hasty in judging people — but it’s told with sparkling wit and a delicious sense of humor. The lively adventures of a mixed group of friends offer a lesson in the value of sticking together. The dolls discover that freedom is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

As for the Countess, her lesson is a little harder: What you are is determined by your strength of character — and not your label.