For years, Eoin Colfer captivated a generation with Artemis Fowl, his beloved children’s fantasy series. Now with Highfire, he’s written his very first fantasy novel for adults.
Highfire follows a similar tread to Artemis Fowl. Squib is a 15-year-old boy, just young enough to retain a childlike belief in fairies and mythical creatures so that he doesn’t totally lose it when he meets Vern.
Vern is a character straight out of Colfer’s unique sense of humor. The last dragon on Earth, Vern is a wise-cracking misanthrope who spends his days hiding in the swamps and obsessively researching human pop culture online. Picture a small scaly dragon naked except for a Flash Dance t-shirt. “Vern tolerated the swamp. It wasn’t exactly glorious, but these weren’t exactly the glory days. Once upon a time he had been Wyvern, Lord Highfire, of the Highfire Eyrie, if you could believe that melodramatic bullshit name. Now he was king of jack shit in Mudsville, Louisiana.”
A series of interconnected events bring Squib, the boy, and Vern, the dragon, together when Waxman, the dragon’s go-between, realizes he has to go away for several months. Waxman forces the dragon, unwillingly, to take Squib on has his human familiar of sorts, getting him the basic supplies he can’t go into town for himself, like vodka and emergency Flashdance t-shirts.
Meanwhile, Squib’s mother is being doggedly pursued by Regence Hooke, a psychopath who serves as the town sheriff. Mayhem ensues when Hooke, in pursuit of Squib, learns about Vern. Hooke is totally mesmerized by the dragon. If he can’t harness its majestical power, he’s determined to destroy it.
Reading level-wise, the only thing that really sets this book from Colfer’s YA offerings is a slightly wider vocabulary, and the fact that his bawdy sense of humor is a little more explicit. (The mechanics of how a dragon’s ball sac works factors into the plot, and we learn about the one or two times Vern almost beds a lady gator out of lonely desperation.) That’s not to say the book is childish or overly easy to read – one of Colfer’s strengths is that he doesn’t talk down to or dumb things down for children. This is a fun and light easy read, perfect for fans of Red Dwarf or other humor fantasy works.
If I had one quibble with this book, it’s that at times it feels like the mechanisms of the plot are turning really hard. Item A leads to item B and the parallel plot lines interweave in uncanny ways that sometimes seem a little too perfectly planned. But it’s a very minor complaint – on the whole I enjoyed the book. Colfer has a totally unique writing style and I loved hearing him bring his voice into a book for adults. The characters are compelling and well-drawn – I was rooting for the burgeoning romance between Squib’s doe-eyed, down-on-her-luck mother and the local restaurant owner Squib works for. Colfer made a truly frightening villain in the unhinged Hooke. Colfer has a knack for drawing characters in broad strokes so that they feel both like perfect archetypes but also very specific real people – which is impressive, since one of the people in the book is a dragon.
Highfire was released January 28th from Harper Collins.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.