Kenneth Oppel


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Silverwing Summary

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Silverwing is a children’s novel by Canadian author Kenneth Oppel. First published by HarperCollins in 1997, it is the first installment in the bestselling series of the same name. The book follows the lives of a colony of Silverwing bats. Oppel provides the bats with humanistic traits, which has led to its comparison to the popular children’s book Watership Down.

The protagonist is Shade, a young Silverwing bat who lives with his mother, Ariel. Shade’s father disappeared before he was born, something he has to come to terms with as he grows up and becomes increasingly curious about his origins and the father who gave him life. Shade struggles in other areas of his life as well, as he is the runt of the colony, which results in him being constantly targeted by other newborns, especially one called Chinook. Shade hates being smaller than the rest of the newborns and fantasizes about growing big and strong enough to one day confront his tormentors.

The bats are subject to the laws imposed on them by the owls, who restrict the bats to the nighttime, forbidding them from being out during daylight hours. Shade challenges Chinook to disobey the rules and to stay up to see the sunrise, an act that is expressly forbidden. Chinook agrees at first but then loses his nerve and backs out. Shade decides to stay up to see the sun in order to demonstrate his fearlessness to the others.

When Shade returns to roost at Tree Haven, the elders of the colony attempt to discipline him. One of the elders, Frieda, brings Shade to an echo chamber where bats have recorded the stories of their species over the ages. Here, he learns the history of the rivalry between his kind and the owls. Frieda shows Shade a metal band that she wears around her wrist, telling him it is a symbol of a promise she made to the bat goddess, Nocturna, that one day the bats would return to the sun and rule the daytime once again.

Shade’s reckless behavior has attracted the attention of the owls, ultimately resulting in severe consequences for the entire colony when a group of owls pays the bats a visit at Tree Haven. The colony refuses to give up Shade to the owls, and so they set the tree on fire instead. The entire colony is forced to migrate to a new home.

During the migration, the colony is caught in a storm, and Shade is separated from the group. He lands on a human fishing boat where he finds another bat, Marina. Shade notices that Marina also wears a metal band around her wrist, the same kind as Frieda. A passing colony of bats offers to help Shade rejoin his group, but they refuse to allow Marina to come along, insisting that banded bats are not welcome. Shade decides to pass on their offer, staying with Marina instead, and the two embark on a journey towards the city.

Once they arrive in the city, Shade and Marina find that they are out of their element, and many unanticipated dangers await them. They are attacked by pigeons who view them as a threat, assuming that they are carnivorous bats. Marina and Shade seek shelter in a nearby cathedral, where they meet Zephyr, an albino bat who seems to possess mystical powers, lulling Shade to sleep with the help of a strange leaf. When Shade wakes up, Zephyr tells him that he has the ability to see things; he knows exactly where Frieda is and can direct Shade to her. He also informs him that his father, Cassiel, is still alive.

Shade and Marina follow Zephyr’s directions in search of the Silverwing colony. Along their journey, they encounter a rat named Remus, who also mistakes them for carnivorous bats. Shade and Marina tell Remus their story. Remus remains skeptical, but his brother, Romulus, believes the bats and agrees to help them find their way out of the sewer. Once they make their way out, they think they are in the clear but are soon intercepted by two carnivorous bats, Goth and Throbb. They threaten Shade and Marina into leading them to the Silverwing colony, where they will have an entire group of bats to feed on.

Shade pretends to agree to the plan, but uses the technique taught to him by Zephyr to put the bats to sleep. This gives Shade and Marina time to distance themselves from Goth and Throbb, who end up being struck by lightning. Marina and Shade carry on, eventually finding the location of the Silverwing colony. The group embraces Marina immediately, adopting her as one of their own.