Written by: Eoin Colfer
Published in the UK by: Egmont, 27th October 2016
AN INSTRUMENT OF PEACE
From page to screen and back to page again, award-winning Artemis Fowl author – and Ireland’s laureate for children’s literature – Eoin Colfer brings Marvel’s smart aleck comic book superhero to the North shores of his home country in this slick and snappy YA adventure which substitutes the colourful panel art we normally associate with the Iron Man property for zinging dialogue, explosive descriptions and profuse Irish stereotypes (“top of the morning,” leprechauns, Guinness, Riverdancing, “…, so” and U2 are all brought up – seriously).
Detecting dubious behaviour on the remote western isle of Little Saltee while heading to an International Eco-Summit in Dublin, Iron Man finds himself ambushed and imprisoned by his greatest foe, who intends to reign destruction down on the conference ministers and attendees while in Tony Stark’s instantly-recognisable suit. Can the wisecracking billionaire inventor break free of his prison, save the life of a young genius patsy and stop “Mandy” before he weaponises the red and gold get up into the ultimate ecoterrorist?
By keeping the stakes high but the cast-list low and the narrative simple, The Gauntlet’s plot is remarkably (and deceptively) modest. While the novel does have a beginning, middle and end, were it to be adapted to film, it would legitimately only translate into the action-packed third and final act. Colfer bulks out the almost 300-page length by channelling “T-Star”’s typically talkative persona, laying on the playboy pizzazz and egomaniacal sarcasm thick.
Humorous as the cheeky repartee would no doubt play out on screen, the verbose banter does being to tire. Whether necessary or not, the jokes often feel like they are being spelled out too explicitly and called back to far too regularly. For instance, Tony’s disbelief at the rather unfortunate Christian name bestowed upon the superintendent with whom he teams up with seems heavily contrived, particularly when Colfer goes to the extreme effort of explaining the reason Irishman Diavolo Conroy’s parents named him after an Italian flatbread. This does not constitute character, serving the story in no worthwhile way accept to give everyone something tongue-in-cheek to harp on about.
Thankfully, the abundant wry comedy is balanced with some emotive depth: Tony’s repressed daddy issues with long-dead Howard Stark resurrects some personal demons which the man behind the Iron face plate wrestles with throughout, often loudly and explicitly by conferring – at length – with his various AI software programmes, “Friday” and “Prototony”. Credit where credit is due, the Epilogue nicely brings the story full circle by finding productive use for Tony’s first invention, the “TOT”, which we were introduced to in the 80’s-set prologue.
It seems a bit ambitious to label this as “Middle Grade” fiction as that implies it is suitable for a Young Adult audience of 10+. While a ten-year-old may enjoy The Gauntlet being read to them (I can imagine a father would have a ball channelling a cocksure RDJ) and in teenage hacker Saoirse Tory they do have an identifiable age-appropriate avatar for the adventure, I think they would struggle with the language, themes and plot if they were reading it themselves. The violence too, although not overtly bloodcurdling, does seem rather extreme on the instances where it is executed.
With the striking cover given an eye-catching metallic sheen, The Gauntlet is a very nicely presented paperback, it’s just a pity that the font Egmont use for button read outs and newspaper headlines within the main text got mangled into gibberish between the proofreading and the printing. Initially I thought it was code, but by the third occurrence I realised it was a mistake. Thankfully thrice is all it is used so it doesn’t completely ruin the story by any means, but it is a sizeable error which I would hope will be fixed by the second edition.
CR@B’s Claw Score: