Sunwing

by Kenneth Oppel

Sequel to Silverwing. This story dove into darker material, which I wasn’t really expecting. It also got more mystical, with almost magical things happening (or at least, they really stretched my suspension of belief). But I was so hooked by the story and interested in the characters, I just went with it. So- trying not to give away too much of the storyline but maybe there will be spoilers. Shade the bat has found his colony and reached the hibernation site. It’s no longer a safe haven, though. Owls attack, they have to flee south, they find a human building that pulls them in with enticing bat sounds. Inside is a fantastic artificial forest. Most of the bats think they’ve finally reached a paradise promised by the ancient legends. But Shade is suspicious and alarmed that they can’t exit the building again. He’s determined to find out more- and to his great dismay, he makes some horrific discoveries. The bats’ assumptions about human kindness is all wrong- quite the opposite- they are putting bats (and owls) to their own use, in warfare (even more awful is that this is based on some actual history). By dint of some clever thinking, bravery, help from a friend and a new owl ally, Shade escapes and makes his way to a city that hosts a huge roost of bats under a bridge. They are expecting the beginning of a new war with the owls, mustering forces.

Shade knows they have a much bigger threat to face- because his old enemy the jungle bat has a plan to wake the evil bat god and bring eternal darkness on everyone. It seems hopeless but Shade has to try and stop him (even if the evil god won’t really appear, the carnivorous bats’ machinations will kill a hundred innocent creatures). This ends up with the bats facing more and more horrors- trust me, it gets very bloody and disturbing- this was shelved in juvenile fiction but I would say it should be for YA and up, unless your kid likes reading fairly graphic stuff- like cannibalism, hearts getting ripped out, fighting in piles of dead bodies, and so on. The author isn’t shy about letting some of the characters get killed, either (though more than once someone presumed dead turns out to be alive after all, surprise!) In the end though, it seems they have reached the outcome predicted long ago by the northern bats’ goddess Nocturna- a peace truce made with both the owls and rats, as together they face down the greater enemy.

A lot of other reviews have compared this book to Watership Down. While I saw the similarities, I was reminded more strongly of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH or Tailchaser’s Song (especially the underworld parts). One thing I forgot to note in my post about the first book- because the bats are color-blind, the author doesn’t use any words for colors in the entire book. I thought this was very well done. I didn’t even notice the first time around (until it was pointed out to me in the author’s note at the end). The descriptions of how the bats use sound to perceive their world, stretching their senses beyond normal abilities even, was also very well done and intriguing to see the world described from such a different viewpoint. At the same time, the bat characters have such ordinary hopes and plans- just to be safe, to find family members again, to impress a girl- it’s very relatable in those ways too. Good story!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
312 pages, 2000

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