Book Review: ‘Highfire’ by Eoin Colfer

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Highfire is Eoin Colfer’s (he of Artemis Fowl fame) first adult fantasy novel. It’s an urban comic fantasy set in the Louisiana swamp. Highfire‘s central characters are Squib, a young adult who walks the thin line between legal and illegal, and Vern, a centuries-old dragon, whose main aim in life is to be left alone. Together they find themselves in a battle for existence with a morally corrupt sociopath.

What Is Highfire by Eoin Colfer?

If I were writing the tagline for Highfire, it would probably be something like, “Game of Thrones meets Dave Robicheaux.” Robicheaux, if you’ve never heard of him, is the detective in James Lee Burke’s excellent crime novels, largely set in the Louisiana Bayou. Colfer’s depiction of the steamy, damp setting of Highfire is very reminiscent of Burker’s writing in the Robicheaux novels. Game of Thrones, of course, because the book contains a dragon.

Highfire is set in contemporary Louisiana, and how, you might wonder, did a dragon end up there? This is the focus of much of the story. Vern is hiding. Fed up with being hunted and hounded by humans desperate for a dragon-head bust, Vern decided the best way to live out his existence is amongst his kin, the alligators. If somebody spots him, this will create a degree of plausible deniability.

Vern has a policy of not fraternizing with humans. They always betray him. He is centuries old and has seen it all. Once Vern was powerful and majestic, now he has little more than beer and Netflix. Enter, Squib, a fatherless Louisiana Creole, with a mother he doesn’t want to disappoint, but a tendency to walk the wrong side of the law.

One night, Squib is trying to muscle in on some criminal action, videoing bent cop, Hooke, as he makes a deal. Squib hopes to use the video as leverage to get Hooke off his back and well away from his mother. Hooke has taken an unhealthy interest in Squib’s mom and he wants him nowhere near her. Things go spectacularly wrong when Vern inadvertently gets involved.

What follows sets up an unlikely friendship and a merciless vendetta. Hooke is as chilling a villain as you’ll find in contemporary fiction. A driven sociopath with a teenager in his sights.

Why Read Highfire by Eoin Colfer?

I have to be honest, I was a little bit disappointed by Highfire. Anybody who as read Artemis Fowl will know it’s fiction of the highest order. Clever, and when it first hit bookshelves there was nothing quite like it. Highfire is an interesting idea, a great concept, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Artemis Fowl. 

But it is not, unlike one of its characters after he’s fallen in the bayou, a damp Squib. The interplay between Vern and Squib is both entertaining and endearing, as is the third wheel, the swamp dweller, Waxman. Waxman may actually be the best character in the book for reasons I won’t spoil. Hooke is evil incarnate and gave me the creeps. He’s the stuff of nightmares and the scariest villain I’ve encountered in a long time.

The story is suffused with humor, which mostly works, though the book is rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Colfer painted an interesting picture of dragon legends and depicts some interesting saurian physiology. The science of fire-breathing is particularly entertaining. Perhaps because it reminded me of James Lee Burke, a writer I greatly admire, I loved the Colfer’s depiction of Louisiana and the bayou. Setting as character is something of a cliche, but the vivid backdrop provided by the swampland definitely brought something extra to the story.

The book is left open for a sequel, but is largely complete in its own right. On the strength of this first volume I’d definitely read more books in the series. Not so much for Vern, but for the excellent Squib. I want to see what he makes of himself. All in all, Highfire is an enjoyable urban fantasy with a comic touch and worth checking out if you’re looking for something a little different.

Don’t just take my word for it, you’ll find a host of reviews as part of the Highfire blog tour.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Highfire, you can do so here, in the US and here, in the UK.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in order to write this review. 


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