Hello Humans! It feels like a long while since I reviewed a book with dragons in – I think it would have been when I reviewed The Name of All Things back in November. I only have so many months I can go without getting my fix of winged lizards so I was excited to read Eoin Colfer’s Highfire at the end of last year.
This is Eoin Colfer’s first adult fantasy novel, having dipped into the Artemis Fowl books as a young teenager I’m not coming to his work totally fresh, but I can’t say I’ve been an avid Colfer reader before now.
Eoin Colfer’s first adult fantasy novel is a hilarious, high-octane adventure about a vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon who’s been hiding out from the world – and potential torch-carrying mobs – in a Louisiana bayou . . . until his peaceful world’s turned upside down by a well-intentioned but wild Cajun tearaway and the crooked (and heavily armed) law officer who wants him dead.
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.
Highfire is a genre-bending tour-de-force of comedy and action by the million-copy-selling master storyteller.
It’s interesting, I do feel that if you took out just a few elements of this book (swearing, drugs, violence and…lust?) the actual premise could read as a middle-grade novel. I mean, a young boy who is in a bit of trouble ends up running errands for the last dragon on the planet while trying to keep him a secret? I can see the adorable cartoon cover now.
In some ways I think that’s why this book works, it feels like an aged-up version of a story I might have read as a younger reader – and why shouldn’t we still have stories like that just because we’re older now? Of course, the villains are more overtly villainous and rather than simply cackling and twirling fabulous moustaches their crimes are more varied (and their personalities more horrifying) and we’re all a bit more aware of how awful the world is in general, but also I want grumpy dragons sorting delinquent boys out and being huffy the entire time, I shouldn’t have to lose that just because I’m 24 now and pay taxes.
I wasn’t sure if I would like Squib when I started reading this book, I tend to not get on with young male protagonists, and even less so when they’re depicted as ‘starting to dip their toes into a life of crime’. Too often they just reflect the worst qualities of young men and never get called out on it, I have to experience enough terrible youths in daily life I don’t want to read about them and be expected to root for them in my fantasy books as well. Thankfully, Squib really grew on me as the book went on, I think it was the fact that as a reader you can get a good appreciation for his motivations and his circumstances, it doesn’t excuse his behaviour under the ‘it’s ok because he loves his mum’ trope, but it also acknowledges the effect that circumstances and lack of privilege play in situations such as Squib’s.
This is one of those books where, at at least one point, I hated every single character – with the possible exception of Squib’s Mum. I actually think that a book that can pull off so many unlikeable characters and still have me read to the end is quite impressive and indicative of the development of each character throughout the book. I would have perhaps liked a few more light moments for the ‘good’ characters but maybe that’s my optimism shining through.
One thing that I personally missed was some worldbuilding. You get some inklings as to Vern’s life and the past presence of dragons, but I didn’t really feel like I had much of a picture – indeed this may have been intentional, to skim over those elements as they aren’t essential to the story, but I really wanted them, probably because I’m desperate to believe that there were dragons (and that I can meet one). Just a little more worldbuilding would have made this book better for me.
Overall this is a quick fun read that I think will appeal to readers who do enjoy darker humorous stories, it isn’t 100% my cup of tea and I think a few changes in the plot and characters could have helped with the flow of the story – but if the concept interests you, I’d say go for it!
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Highfire publishes January 28th!
What say you? What other dragon books can you recommend – let me know in the comments below!