In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?
A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.
Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?
The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.
I picked up Highfire due to what I had heard from other readers, which basically can be summed up as such: “It is about a lazy, oft-drunk dragon who has a crude sense of humor. Oh, plus murder or something.” That was about where my expectations were. I was looking forward to a funny, snarky, juvenile book about a dragon with some kind of plot snuck in there, and that is exactly what I got. I would say this book lived up to my expectations.
Having never read any of Eion Colfer’s work before, I came in unfamiliar with the author’s writing style; though, I figure this is very different than any of his other books. Highfire is heavily character-driven, with three main characters getting most of the page space: Vern (the dragon), Everett “Squib” (the teenage boy), and Regence (the cop). Clearly Vern steals the show, cursing and making raunchy jokes from the first pages. A veritable Al Bundy, he never slows down during the entire narrative; no matter the situation, Vern has something brash to say about it. This appeals to the teenage boy who still lives inside my supposed adult body. I laughed early and often. Speaking of teenage boys, Everett is also a great character. Imagine finding a talking dragon at the age of 15? That reaction is what you get from Squib, who actually ends up bringing a lot of balance to the story. He often acts more stable than the actual adults in the room while also trying to keep his own life together. The man trying to take that life apart is Regence Hooke, dirty cop/drug and weapons dealer/murderer. He is completely psychotic, and it is his actions that bring the story along, for the most part. Vern, Squib, et al, would be just happy to let things lie, but Regence is a power hungry psycho and is not content with the status quo.
What ensues is a chaotic mess. The plot at the beginning of the book is a very interesting “what a tangled web we weave” type of thing. I definitely enjoyed how things started. I would not say I did not like the end, but things do unravel in the second half. Honestly, after thinking back on it I feel the author might have just said “I have all these ideas about how dragons function and what they can do… how do I concoct a plot that fits and allows me to show off some cool dragon shit?”, as opposed to the other way around. Which I do not mind, by the way, because Vern does do a lot of cool dragon shit. It is a fun story. Vern is awesome (also, he may have learned a few things along the way and experienced some personal growth). Squib is relatable. Regence is an unstable psycho.
I really liked the setting of Highfire, as well. The story takes place in southern Louisiana, which actually adds a little depth to a story that is razor thin. First of all, everyone speaks with a southern Louisiana accent (except for Vern, who is thousands of years old). It adds some flavor to the dialogue. Also, the author used elements of the setting to make things more interesting. There are swamps and alligators galore and people going up and down the river in boats. I love the way the author used the setting not just as somewhere for the story to take place but as a way of adding dimension to the story.
Overall, Highfire was a fun book. Vern is my guy, and I think I would like to sit down and have a beer with him (or even a martini). This book is not for everyone, though; if you like your dragons to act their age, you may want to skip it. But I smiled the whole way through, so I am recommending this book for anyone who likes that kind of thing.
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