Highfire by Eoin Colfer
Jo Fletcher Books, pb,
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Once dragons ruled the world and humans were their servants. Now, humans think dragons are a myth and the last living dragon lives in the Louisiana swamps, drinking, watching cable and getting into fights with the local gator population. Wyvern, Lord Highfire, of the Highfire Eyrie, Vern for short, avoids people as best he can, until one day, Squib, a local teenager, runs into him trying to hide from a corrupt cop. Vern is forced to help Squib as the politics of love and crime crashes into his quiet retirement. But against a corrupt officer like Constable Hooke who is determined to have Squib’s mother for himself, is even the last dragon enough to save the day?
Written from multiple points of view, Highfire centres on the last dragon breaking his own rules about interactions with humanity, the very rules that have made him the last dragon. He claims he wants to be alone, and yet all his interactions, even with the local gator population which always involve fights for dominance, show us Vern’s loneliness. For his part, Squib is a young man trying to protect his mother from the biggest criminal player in the town, Constable Hooke, and yearning for a father figure. Their relationship provides Vern with company and new purpose, and Vern gets the male role model he needs, albeit not in a form he would have expected.
The world-building is incredible, something we can take for granted when reading Colfer’s work. He brings the Louisiana swamps, and the little groups of people who live there, to life in a lush, murky green world where the swamps are integral to every day living. To Squib, the swamps are like streets and the unusual wildlife are like our urban pidgeons. Except for the dragons, of course.
Do not expect any Game of Throne style dragon here. Vern is savvy and blood-thirsty to the point where he as to get involved. Given a different relationship with people, he would thrive in our world with its technology and high-quality alcohol, which makes his necessary hiding sad, because he is right, if people knew he existed, he would be hunted down. That says a lot about people as a species and it isn’t good.
Highfire is billed as Eoin Colfer’s first story for adults. While there is certainly enough bad language, you were warned, to make it unsuitable for his original Artemis Fowl audience, my feeling is it was more suitable to a teenage audience, particularly as of the two main characters, one is 15 and the other is so old that age is immaterial.
Very different from the Artemis Fowl books which made Colfer’s name so familiar, Highfire is fast-paced, action-packed ride from start to finish and worth a read if you’re already a fan of his work.