Eoin Colfer's first adult fantasy novel, Highfire, is a pacy tour de force

  • Highfire, by Eoin Colfer. Jo Fletcher. $32.99.

Irish author Eoin Colfer has sold over 25 million copies of his Artemis Fowl series. The release of the Artemis Fowl film, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Judi Dench, unless it is deferred from its projected release in May, will see many more copies sold.

Colfer has said in an interview, "As a teacher I always found that telling stories was the best way to teach because you could sneak the information inside an adventure story. So, a lot of the Artemis books, for example, would have a very ecological message. My books tend to be, of late, a mixture of escapism and trying to tackle issues head on. And then the flip side of that is I like to do books like Highfire and Fowl Twins just so people can have a laugh and kids can go to bed smiling."

Highfire, his first adult fantasy novel, featuring Vern, a curmudgeonly, vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon hiding on a small island in a Louisiana bayou, will certainly entertain. As Colfer says, "Every day on the TV [kids] are looking at people getting blown up, people drowning, the world war coming . . . When you've had that all day or maybe you are one of those kids and you just would like a little grin before bedtime. That's the book for you."

Squib, a teenage boy, is running off the rails at school, while trying to help his single mother Elodie evade the attentions of the corrupt, sadistic local policeman Regence Hooke, who is trying to take over the local drug-running business. Colfer says Squib is based on one of his sons, while he sees himself as the grumpy Vern. Vern, "bipedal, seven feet tall, with grey hair and yellow eyes", may be grumpy because he is the last dragon left on earth or because he is on the Keto diet. Many days Vern falls asleep, drunk in front of the cable TV output, which includes his disdain for "Game of f***ing Thrones".

Vern, originally Wyvern, Lord Highfire of Highfire Eyrie, despises the human race for killing off his fellow dragons centuries ago, but when Squib inadvertently gains evidence that will destroy Regence, Vern must intervene to save him from Regence's murderous intent. From this point the action revs up with lots of narrative witticism, violent action and scatological dialogue.

This story A witty adult fantasy, replete with swearing first appeared on The Canberra Times.