Book review: Highfire by Eoin Colfer
Although he's very well known for his young adult Artemis Fowl books, Highfire is not Eoin Colfer's first work for older readership, that being his wonderfully amusing and violent noir crime novel Plugged, with its follow-up Screwed. Having nailed, plugged and screwed that genre, you can be fairly sure that Eoin Colfer is capable of bringing the same irreverent and amusing character with his own personal stamp on the science-fiction genre.
I'm not sure what I expected from Eoin Colfer when I heard that he was bringing out a science-fiction novel - somehow I imagined something in space - but I certainly wasn't expecting Highfire to be about the last known dragon in the world, laying low in a Louisiana bayou on a La-Z-Boy, wearing a Flashdance t-shirt, watching Netflix on cable. Since that image occurs briefly in the prelude, I imagined it must be a metaphor or something, because immediately after that we are in a more familiar - but not particularly SF - Eoin Colfer Plugged world of crooked cops and petty criminals.
15 year old Everett Moreau, known as Squib, occasionally manages to keep out of trouble running errands in the bayou, but not this time when he discovers that crooked law-officer and personal rival Constable Regence Hooke not only involved with the local crime lord, shipping drugs and guns across the border, but something a whole lot worse, and he manages to get it all recorded on his camera phone. That brings down a lot of heat on Squib, and bringing a lot of heat to the swamp is just what a dragon in hiding out there doesn't need. So, it turns out I wasn't imagining the dragon and it's not some kind of metaphor.
Since Vern - for that's the dragon's name, short for Wyvern - operates outside the law and has his own little supply route, you could if you want see some kind of parallel between this and the undercover activities of drug barons, their ruthless sense of self-preservation, their scheming and holding control over their employees to do their dirty work for them. I wouldn't want to push that metaphor too far however as there's a limited amount of seriousness you can apply to a dragon in a Flashdance t-shirt, but make no mistake, Vern is powerful, ruthless and will do anything to preserve his comfortable lifestyle and avoid becoming a YouTube sensation. Bad news for Squib then.
Thereafter it all gets wonderfully absurd in a Terry Pratchett way. Much of the humour, as you might imagine, is in the incongruity of a talking dragon in the real world, and Vern is something of a character. Much of the humour derives from Vern's attitude and spoken delivery, not least when he has someone like Waxman - another unusual mythical figure in the bayou - to bounce wisecracks off. The best of Colfer's writing is in such dialogues, but evidently there's much amusement in the absurd and potentially explosive situation that he has set up here in Highfire.
The actual plot isn't up to much, it being mostly built around Squib and Vern trying to keep out of the prying interest and vengeful intent of Constable Hooke and what happens when it all inevitably explodes out into the open - and I'm not sure it really fits the remit of science-fiction - but Highfire is a wonderfully entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny blend of crime and fantasy that should bring Colfer's Artmenis Fowl readership along with him and hopefully introduce this great author to a few new readers.