REVIEW: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

4.5/5 stars — spanning everything from dragon body humor to mental illness and discrimination, this is Colfer in fine form Eoin Colfer writes three kinds of characters brilliantly: children, larger-than-life bad guys, and nonhumans with big personalities. (If we’re being real, all his characters are lively and unique, but those three archetypes are the building blocks of his stories.) For readers like me, introduced to Colfer via Artemis Fowl, Highfire was a nostalgic yet updated return to Colfer’s clever plots and razor-witted prose…with some f-bombs thrown in for good measure. For fellow Fowl fans, the eponymous dragon, Highfire, reminds me most of Mulch Diggums. Highfire is about Vern (aka, Wyvern, Lord Highfire), a millennia-old dragon who lives in the Louisiana bayou. He’s disillusioned with the world and humans in general, seeing as they killed all the others of his kind. However, he’s a huge fan of Flashdance, Netflix, and vodka, which tells you a lot about Colfer’s brand of storytelling. The story is also about Squib Moreau, a teenage native of the bayou who, in one event-filled night snooping around the swamp, gets what could have been the shock of his life if it hadn’t immediately been followed by meeting a real live dragon. A muddy, bloody sequence of events later, Squib is employed as Vern’s errand boy. Bad language aside, this book earns its ‘adult’ categorization mainly through its antagonist. Regence Hooke is a crooked law enforcement officer who transitioned from military to civilian life by maintaining a bloodthirsty attitude and a massive stock of illegal weaponry. Colfer hits the nail on the head with this embodiment of villainy: Hooke is one of the scariest characters I’ve read in a long time. Warning: some of Hooke’s POV sections may be triggering since he describes and/or alludes to sexually assaulting women, committing murder, and other graphic acts of violence. If you’ve read Artemis Fowl, you’ll be familiar with Colfer’s wonderfully ungentle pokes at everything from poor sustainability practices to lax regulation of weapons purchases. Colfer doubles down in Highfire, with insightful commentary on the U.S.’s criminal-to-military pipeline, gun laws, and police violence against minorities. His deft and witty prose keeps it from feeling preachy, as does the fact that some of the story is from the point of view of a dragon criticizing humanity. At a time when lots of my childhood author faves are turning out to be awful, it’s refreshing that Colfer can still write the good shit while also evidently being a good person. This is the story of a fifteen-year-old kid caught in a murdery triangle with a corrupt cop and a world-weary dragon. There are lots of swears and body humor; there are also insightful points about prejudice, depression, and what actually makes a monster. Basically, if you’ve enjoyed Colfer’s work before, this is what you’re used to but for an older audience. If you’re new to the author, this is a good starting point if the above sounds like your cup of tea! It may appeal to readers who like Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne’s Tales of Pell or Carl Hiaasen’s books for adults. Personally, I thought it was delightful. If a sequel (Highfire and Moreau Part 2: The Burn is Back, to quote the book itself) is in the cards, I’ll be all over it like Vern on a bottle of mid-range vodka. Content warnings: suicidal urges, depressive episodes, murder, gore, mentions of stalking and assault, suicide attempt

** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. **