Almost 16 years ago, Kenneth Oppel published Firewing, the final installment to his tour de force about the world’s only flying mammal. The Silverwing trilogy centers on the story of Shade, a runty silver-haired bat who peeks a forbidden glimpse of the rising sun. His action brings danger upon his kind, as it disrupts the sacred law banishing bats to the night. After being separated from his colony in an ocean storm, Shade teams up with the exiled Marina Brightwing and starts a journey that will change the future for bats across the world. Shade’s saga is an incredible fantasy feat written by a skilled author.
In 2007, Oppel took a blast to the past with Darkwing, a prequel that takes place when a changing world saw to the fall of dinosaurs. As the great reptiles began to die off, the newly sprawling dominion of warm-blooded creatures formed a pact to destroy the remaining eggs of their common threat. Now, they live in peace.
Darkwing centers on Dusk, a small fuzzy chiropter whose colony lives by gliding through their sheltered island. However, there’s a problem—Dusk doesn’t glide. He flaps. Never in the history of chiropters has a chiropter flapped. Dusk’s bizarre behavior annoys his colony and incites the agitation of the island avians, whose wicked beaks and power of flight have always seen them dominant. But across the water there lies another change of nature. Carnassial, prize hunter of the Felids, finds that his appetite for the yolk contained in the remaining dinosaur eggs has waned to whet for the tender flesh of the hatchlings inside. Carnassial’s betrayal triggers a shift that sends Dusk and his colony across a dangerous new world to find a better place to live.
This book explores the force of evolution in the time bats could glide in the light of day. Like with his previous work, Oppel guides the story with great tone and imagery, taking you everywhere Dusk goes and making you feel all the things you’re supposed to feel. There is something about Oppel’s writing that’s subtle and yet fills the reader with the most immersive experience. I had to go through the first chapter over and over again to take in his style, letting the island unfold before me in all it was. Eventually I’d go to see what happened next, but it was as much of a cost as it was a ride. Over 400 pages lay ahead and yet it would be too soon that Dusk’s story would end. Duskwing remains a top pick for my favorite animal fantasy novels of all time.
Longtime fans of Silverwing were treated to a handful of illustrations that lent even more greatness to this epoch. Keith Thompson’s artwork expertly depicts the creatures you read about as they survive their prehistoric land. All the animals are based off of real species except the chiropters, which are obviously an ancestor of bats. Those being introduced to the series here don’t need to prep on the trilogy to understand Darkwing, though they may find themselves seeing the books’ age if they read the chronological timeline. It’s a little weird rereading Silverwing and finding more flaws, but the series is strong from the get-go. Fans of bats, dinosaurs, and the freak phenomenon of evolution will get much out of Darkwing. Check it out today for a bygone era teeming with the beginnings of creatures now long changed.