Highfire by Eoin Colfer REVIEW

It’s probably a fire risk to mix dragons and vodka, but I’m glad Eoin Colfer took the chance.


I’m getting predictable. The main reason I picked this book? It had dragons in it. Well, dragon to be exact. With the amount of world mythologies that contain dragon-like creatures, there has to be some basis for their existence at some point in history, right? And yes, there are so many variations of said reptile throughout pop culture and folk tradition alike. But there’s always room for another one.

According to Eoin Colfer, dragons used to rule over us. Vern was once Lord Highfire, master of the skies and fire-breathing doom to many a village. But these days, Vern is usually full of vodka rather than fire. As the potential last-of-his-kind, he’s become self-exiled to an island in the Louisiana swamps where he spends his days watching cable TV, keeping the alligators in line, and avoiding anyone human.

Hilariously his presence has managed to create rumours of a swamp monster, but on the wrong island. It’s little details like this that made Highfire such a captivating read. The location described often seems caught between timelines, with a cast of characters that would probably look the same were the story told in a past era. But the tiny links to modern times, such as selfies, James Corden’s talk show, and a mafia boss with a standing desk, give the occasional zap back to present times. These were sometimes almost out of place, yet often the moments I laughed the hardest.

The scene setting in Highfire is well done, with a narrative tone to match that carries through the story. If you read the Artemis Fowl books as a child and fell in love with Eoin Colfer’s humour and style, you’re in for a treat with his first adult fantasy novel. I laughed from practically the first page. While the grouchy old has-been with a drink problem and a hatred for humanity is a tried-and-tested stereotype that has itself become as cynical as its subject matter, it’s pretty darn funny to think of a dragon lounging about watching Netflix.

When you’re presented with a character like Vern, it’s obvious there’ll be something sooner or later to kick him back into action. And this comes in the form of a nine-fingered Cajun teenager called Squib. Poor Squib. He just wants to stop disappointing his mother, so therefore does the ever-so-sensible thing of seeking employment with a local smuggler.

And then witnesses said smuggler’s brutal murder at the hands of his long-term nemisis Constable Regence Hooke (yes, the great depths of comedic potential from this name are dredged). While escaping the very, very bent cop, Squib accidentally discovers Vern, who very much did not wish to be found.

I greatly enjoyed the biological details Colfer explored concerning dragons and their fire-breathing abilities. The lore behind the story was rife with fresh takes and originality.

On the whole, there were a lot of things to like about this book – unlike the swamp it’s well worth dipping into. The plot is solid and the action zips along as smoothly as Squib’s canoe through the bayou.

The major downside came in the form of Regence Hooke’s required bouts of villianish introspective. Hooke was almost pantomimesque in appearance and behaviour, an affliction infecting several other characters too, and during most scenes told from his perspective, I found myself wishing I was with Vern and Squib instead, or hearing more from his excellent and under-utilized mother.

Old dragon and disaster-prone teenager proves to be a perfect combination, resulting in an adventure you won’t regret exploring.

Review copy provided by PR


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Highfire is highly funny, fresh and fantastical in equal measures.