The story begins in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. Artemis Fowl is sitting with Butler, his bodyguard and assistant, at a café. They are waiting for a contact who reached out to them online after Artemis placed an ad looking for a fairy. When a waiter approaches Artemis and Butler's table, Artemis quickly reveals him to be their informant, Nguyen Xuan, who adopted the disguise to check for weaponry. Artemis informs Nguyen that Butler is in fact carrying a wide array of weapons, which puts Nguyen on edge. However, Artemis has no intention of hurting Nguyen as long as his information proves accurate.
Nguyen leads Artemis and Butler out of the café towards the home of a healer, who Nguyen believes is a fairy. They proceed in a rented van for as far as possible before being forced to make the rest of their journey on foot. Nguyen shows Artemis the suspected fairy's hiding place and then requests to leave. Artemis ignores him and puts on night vision goggles in order to spy on the healer.
Artemis tells the healer that he has a proposition for her. Before answering, she demands that he give her wine. Artemis hands her a bottle of Irish whiskey and notices that her hand is mottled green when it reaches out towards it from the shadows, confirming that she is a fairy. Artemis has Butler pay Nguyen the promised amount of money, 20,000 US dollars.
Once Nguyen has left, Artemis tells the fairy that she has something that he wants: her Book. She is shocked that he knows about its existence. She threatens Artemis, telling him that if he knows about the Book, then he also knows that she can kill him with a snap of her fingers. Artemis knows that she is lying: a centuries-long alcohol addiction has dulled her magic so that she is reduced to curing warts. He tells her that she has two options. The first option is that Artemis leaves the fairy alone; however, he has laced the alcohol that he gave her with holy water, which will kill her within a day. The second option is that he gives the fairy an antidote to the poison as well as a serum which will return her powers to her in exchange for being able to see her Book for merely thirty minutes.
The healer chooses the second option. Butler gives her the antidote and the serum and then photographs the fairy's Book, which is as small as a matchbook. Once he is done photographing the book, he uploads it to the server at the Fowl Manor in Dublin, Ireland. Artemis and Butler leave before they can witness the purging process, which Artemis assumes will be gruesome: "'A hundred years of alcohol leaving a body by any means possible is not a pretty sight'" (15). Once Artemis and Butler are on the plane back home, Butler asks Artemis why they did not leave the sprite to die after photographing her book. Artemis tells Butler that a corpse is evidence of the crime they have just committed, and she will not inform the People of their encounter because he mixed an amnesiac into the second potion.
Chapter 1 gives us our first look into the complex and colorful world of Artemis Fowl. We are introduced to our narrator, a twelve-year-old boy named Artemis Fowl, who has dedicated his time to criminal activities. The story begins at an ending for Artemis—he has found a sprite in Ho Chi Minh City, which means that his long search for fairies, which has taken him all over the globe, is finally over. In the Artemis Fowl universe, there is a population of fairies that live below ground, keeping their existence secret from the human race. We will learn more about them as the novel progresses, including the different kinds of fairies there are and the kinds of rules that govern their existence. Due to their secret existence and their magical powers, there are several rules that every fairy must follow. We get an idea of these rules in Artemis's interaction with the sprite. Artemis knows that every fairy has a copy of a sacred Book that details the secrets of the fairy race. Artemis wants to get his hands on a copy of this Book so that he can exploit them. He also assumes that the sprite he has met in Ho Chi Minh has lost her magical powers because she has drunk alcohol with humans. He tells her, "'Look at you. You are near dead. The rice wine has dulled your senses. Reduced to healing warts. Pathetic'" (11).
As you read the first pages of the novel, you might wonder what kind of protagonist Artemis Fowl is. He successfully intimidates Nguyen, their informant, despite the fact that he is only twelve years old: "Nguyen was by now thoroughly spooked. Artemis generally had that effect on people. A pale adolescent speaking with the authority and vocabulary of a powerful adult. Nguyen had heard the name Fowl before—who hadn't in the international underworld?—but he'd assumed he'd be dealing with Artemis senior, not this boy. Though the word 'boy' hardly seemed to do this gaunt individual justice" (5). As this passage tells us, despite his young age, Artemis is very powerful. He uses his wealth, family name, and intelligence to intimidate others in order to achieve what he wants. From the beginning of the novel, we are forced to consider Artemis as a different kind of protagonist than the ones that we are used to seeing. Traditionally, protagonists within the fantasy and young adult genres use their morals and bravery to defeat evil against all odds. Artemis is the opposite of this trope. He wants to cause evil and he does not care who he hurts or what kinds of problems he causes in the process. He is entirely self-interested and the odds are in his favor from the beginning: his wealth, family history, and intelligence all work to his advantage. Some might go so far to call Artemis an anti-hero. It is hard for the reader to sympathize with someone who is so self-interested, but Colfer masterfully puts the readers on Artemis's side as the novel progresses.
In the first chapter, we are also introduced to another major character in Artemis Fowl. That is Julius Butler, Artemis's servant, bodyguard, and friend. Like Artemis, Butler's character is defined by his lineage. He, and the rest of the Butlers, go through special training just so that they can be of service to the Fowl family. This has happened for generations, preceding even the English language: "The Butlers had been serving the Fowls for centuries. It had always been that way. Indeed, there were several eminent linguists of the opinion that this was how the common noun originated" (15). In other words, members of the Butler family have been "butlers" for the Fowls for so long that language experts believe that the word "butler" comes from that relationship. As the narrator describes, every Butler has their life planned out for them before they are born: "At the age of ten, Butler children were sent to a private training center in Israel, where they were taught the specialized skills necessary to guard the latest in the Fowl line. These skills included Cordon Bleu cooking, marksmanship, a customized blend of martial arts, emergency medicine, and information technology. If, at the end of their training, there was not a Fowl to guard, then the Butlers were eagerly snapped up as bodyguards for various royal personages, generally in Monaco or Saudi Arabia," (15). As you might expect, Julius Butler is extremely loyal to Artemis and follows his every command. At first, you might think that his loyalty and subservience are the only aspects of his character. As the novel progresses, however, we will see more of Butler's character and begin to understand the kinds of things that make him tick.