Indeed, the comparisons with Neil Gaiman are almost inevitable for Eoin Colfer. He writes with a similar warmth and irreverence, and shares Gaiman’s fascination with the quirky human side of fantasy. The question then seems to be, is there space for Colfer’s specific brand of Irish wit within this already crowded space? And the answer is yes. But that’s not exactly what we’re getting with Highfire. Primarily because it’s set in a swamp in Louisiana in southern United States. And while this gives Colfer a whole new palate of linguistic flair and colloquialisms to play with, it also, strangely, limits his traditionally expansive storytelling style.
Dragons in fiction tend to occupy one of three positions. They are monstrous engines of destruction, as in A Song of Ice and Fire or The Hobbit; the noble, benign creatures of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels; or cuddly dudes with a penchant for befriending small children, such as Pete’s Dragon in the Disney movie or excitable Edgar from last year’s John Lewis Christmas ad. Vern is closer to the size of a bear than a dinosaur, and the central plank of the book is his relationship with savvy local teenager Squib Moreau, who chances on the dragon’s lair. What could have been a fairly saccharine odd-couple, cross-generational confection, with Vern as the ultimate boomer to Squib’s Gen Z-er, becomes something more satisfying in Colfer’s deft hands.
Colfer writes snappily and without indulgence, so the pages clip by. A new ice age may well be upon us before George R R Martin publishes The Winds of Winter, the hugely anticipated next volume in his Westeros cycle.
To tide us over, Colfer has served up a stomping, flame-spurting romp sure to delight fantasy fans whose passion for dragons somehow survived Game of Thrones and its dreadful denouement.
While the stakes could not be higher — Vern could be the last dragon in existence and is standing in the way of Hooke’s villainous plots — there’s plenty of time for obscene jokes, thrillerish twists, a sweet love story, digressions on dragon poo and dragon (ahem) junk, along with characters bizarre enough to make Carl Hiaasen blush.
A dazzling first adult novel from bestselling children’s author Colfer.