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Silverwing

by Kenneth Oppel

When he was only 15, Kenneth Oppel’s first book was recommended for publication by his favourite author, Roald Dahl. Fourteen years later, Oppel (former editor of Q&Q’s BfYP section) has just published his 14th book for children.

Silverwing is the story of a bat. Shade is the runt of his colony, always being picked on and continually wishing he were big and strong like his tormentors. But he is inquisitive. When he disobeys the law one morning and stays out to see the sun, he is almost caught by owls, and his exploits bring about the destruction of the colony’s home. Fortunately, the bats escape and begin their migration south for the winter. On the way, Shade is separated from his companions and meets up with Marina, a different species of bat, who has been outcast because she has been marked on the wing by humans. In their attempt to catch up with the others, they encounter rats, pigeons, and a pair of huge tropical meat-eating bats who have escaped from a research institute.

Silverwing creates a complete culture with its own mythology, lore, and rationale. Like all books in this genre, its success depends upon the convincing portrayal of a plausible world. This Kenneth Oppel has achieved. The various views and belief systems of the different bat groups make sense, although they may be a trifle involved for some younger readers. Shade is a good character who learns by experience about a world much more complex and dangerous than he ever imagined. Size and power, it turns out, are not everything.

Silverwing moves along at a brisk pace and is exciting and imaginative. It is well written and will appeal to a wide range of kids. However, there will be a letdown at the end. Many of the themes running through the book – the role humans are destined to play in the bat story and what happened to Shade’s father – are not resolved. Although a strong story is weakened by an abrupt and unsatisfying ending, there is an obvious intention to develop a series that will answer these questions.