Highfire: A Novel

Image of Highfire: A Novel
Release Date: 
January 28, 2020
Harper Perennial
Reviewed by: 

“thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. Eoin Colfer’s specialty is magical realism, and it shines through this entire tale.”

This tongue-in-cheek, irreverent modern fantasy is entertaining, beginning to end. Vern (Wyvern) Highfire is a reclusive centuries’-old dragon who believes that he is the last of his race. His hideout is deep in a Louisiana bayou, on an island filled with alligators and boars, called Honey Island. There, he enjoys cable TV, vodka, and one friend, named Waxman, who is part human, part . . . something else. He hides from tour boats in a fishing shack, lighting cigarettes with his fiery breath, bingeing on Netflix, and guzzling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt.

Once mighty, Vern was known for centuries as Wyvern, Lord Highfire, of the Highfire Eyre. But in contemporary times, Vern hides from everyone. As the age of dragons dissipates, and Vern believes he is the last of his species, young Everett, “Squib” Moreau hurtles into the tale.

Squib, a local teenager who lives with his attractive mother, Elodie, becomes an employee of Vern, the dragon, and starts calling Vern “Boss.” Squib has an absent father and a cultivated propensity for getting in trouble. He spends far more time as a swamp rat than as a student. Squib has a part-time job at a local watering hole, cleaning and running errands. When he’s not working, he’s deep into the swamp, exploring.

The local sheriff, a devoutly evil character named Regence Hook, is part of a major drug-running gang centered in New Orleans. Hook desires Squib’s mom, although Elodie and Squib have made it clear that Hook is persona non grata in their shack on the Pearl River. But Hook will not be turned away. He plots to murder Squib and take Elodie as his bride. But his real planned prize is murdering the drug cartel owner and taking his place in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Hook is about as narcissistic and wicked as it gets.

One night, while Squib is wandering in the swamp, he witnesses Hook murdering a low-level member of his drug cartel. Hook chases Squib in the swamp, eventually lobbing grenades at the boy. Enter Vern, the dragon, who saves Squib’s life. Later, Squib agrees to become Vern’s familiar. Thus begins a dragon-human friendship that will last a lifetime.

Author Eoin Colfer has a solid instinct for the vernacular, pronunciation, and dialogue of the language of America’s deep south, a talent perhaps made all the more unlikely from someone born, raised, and living in Ireland. His animated images of inhabitants of a backward Louisiana bayou is accurate and very well applied. Anything less would make the story feel awkward and insincere. In addition to accurate dialogue among the various characters, the author also creates evocative and haunting scenes, along with well-developed characters bound to eternal good and evil.

The author has created sophisticated and well-designed protagonists, cloaked in very appropriate personas and with accurate bayou dialog. Unfortunately, the secondary characters are less fully developed. It makes for a shorter book, less expensive to print, more appealing to publishers and less strenuous to read. But it can also become a distraction. This type of editing is useful for the sake of brevity, but not much else. Adding details to secondary characters allows readers to better comprehend how they fit with protagonists, enhancing realism. It more accurately displays the scope and purpose of the story.

The book’s realism, corruption, vulgar dialogue, and criminal characters, suggests this book is unlikely to be referred to as “classic literary fiction.” Yet it is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. Eoin Colfer’s specialty is magical realism, and it shines through this entire tale.