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The un-Potter at the rainbow's end

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The race is on. Like the frantic treasure seekers in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," children's publishers are scouring the slush pile, riffling through literary agents' Rolodexes, and racing through bookshelves overseas in search of their golden ticket - the next "Harry Potter."

Talk Miramax Books is so sure of its first foray into young adult books that it's printing 100,000 copies, has picked up the movie rights, and has bestowed a reported $200,000 on Irish author and schoolteacher Eoin Colfer. The publisher is openly comparing Colfer's seventh novel to the boy wonder. Thus, fans convinced "Harry Potter" is the best fantasy since Lucy stepped into the wardrobe, and those who maintain that the whole phenomenon is vastly overrated, will be gunning for "Artemis Fowl" when it comes out next month.

Fortunately, the young criminal mastermind probably wouldn't have it any other way. After the disappearance of his father and the emotional collapse of his mother, the 12-year-old has taken it upon himself to restore his family's glorious name. To do so, he plans to hold a fairy ransom - despite the fact that most people are sure that fairies, um, don't exist.

As Artemis would be the first to point out, he's rarely wrong. Not only are goblins, dwarves, et al, real, but they live in quite modern style under the earth - hidden away from humans, but also locked away from moonlight and night air.

The only ones who get to visit the surface - aside from the occasional gnome tourist or elf posing as a EuroDisney employee - are the leprechauns.

But these aren't the cute, rainbow-hopping, pot-o'-gold hoarding fellows of legend. They are, in fact, an elite police force, designed to maintain order among fairy folk. And "while it was true that LEP had a ransom fund, because of its officers' high-risk occupation, no human had ever taken a chunk out of it yet. This didn't stop the Irish population in general from skulking around rainbows, hoping to win the supernatural lottery."

That's one of many ways that Colfer tweaks fairy tales - replacing the glitter and magic with a fast-paced, urban society.


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