Book Review

Highfire by Eoin Colfer

Squib Moreau may be swamp-wild, but his intentions are (generally) good: he really wants to be a supportive son to his hard-working momma Elodie.  But sometimes life gets in the way – like when Fake Daddy walked out on them leaving a ton of debt, or when crooked Constable Regence Hooke got to thinking pretty Elodie Moreau was just the gal for him…

An apprenticeship with the local moonshine runner, servicing the bayou, looks like the only way to pay off the family debts and maybe get Squib and his momma a place in town, far from Constable Hooke’s unwanted courtship and Fake Daddy’s reputation.

Unfortunately for Squib, Hooke has his own eye on that very same stretch of bayou – and neither of them have taken into account the fire-breathing dragon hiding out in the Louisiana swamp…

For Squib Moreau, Regence Hooke and Vern, aka Lord Highfire of Highfire Eyrie, life is never going to be the same again.

Eoin Colfer is a well-known and much-loved children’s author, best known for his Artemis Fowl series.  Highfire marks his entry onto the adult fantasy scene, and while you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a young adult novel, you’ll soon be disabused of the notion.  The main protagonist, Squib, is 15 years old and so the right age for such a novel, and there is something of a coming-of-age element to the narrative.  However, the language and some elements of the plot mean that this is most definitely a novel for grownups.

I’ve said that Squib is the main protagonist, but there are really two – Squib and Vern, aka Lord Highfire, and the last dragon on Earth, as far as he’s aware, at least.  I absolutely adore Vern!  He’s a cantankerous seven-foot dragon who loves Flashdance t-shirts and hates humans.  He’s determined to live in seclusion in the Louisiana bayou, content so long as his regular supply of vodka is delivered on time and while Netflix continues to run.  And if the local alligator population makes the occasional challenge, it’s nothing he can’t handle.  Vern is a fantastic character and very much the star of the novel for me.  It’s interesting seeing humans through his eyes, and it allows Colfer to comment on some of the worse aspects of human behaviour.  It’s lightly done, and all the more effective for it.

Squib is also a likeable character, despite his flaws.  His main redeeming feature is how much he loves his mum, Elodie, and the lengths he will go to in order to protect her.  He’s also cheeky but smart – street (or swamp, in this case) smart rather than book smart, perhaps, although he knows enough.  It’s clear he’s had a hard life so far, and things don’t look like they’re going to get any easier for him in the near future, and he’s easy to sympathise with.  I would say that he’s a loveable rogue character – one who regularly skips school and who will do pretty much anything to earn a buck or two, although the money does at least go to helping his mother to keep food on the table and the wolf from the door. 

The wolf in this particular scenario is Regence Hooke – a psychopath in the most literal sense of the term – who will try to turn any situation to his own advantage.  He’s cunning, clever, and he is, unfortunately, also the local constable – a position that he uses to his advantage and which lets him get away with more than he might do otherwise.  He’s set his sights on Elodie, and the more she pushes him away, the more keenly he pursues her.  He’s not the sort of person who you’d want to become aware of the last dragon in the world…

Highfire is a whole lot of fun.  It’s funny and smart with sharp dialogue, great characters, and a fantastic sense of place.  Highly recommended.


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