Long ago there was a war between the birds and the beasts. The bats, who shared attributes of both, abstained from taking a side, making them equally contemptible by both. In the present day, in an alternate reality not so far removed from our own, a young bat named Shade breaks the taboo that has kept the peace for years: he gets a glimpse of the sun. By breaking this law Shade brings down retribution from the birds onto his entire colony, and finds himself alone and without a home.
Although the owls are initially the main threat, and humans occasionally are a source of fear to the bats, the main villain of the book is a vampire cannibal bat named Goth. He and his fellow vampire sidekick Throbb escape from a zoo enclosure and find themselves far removed from their South American jungle habitat, and exposed to the first time to the naïve North American bats who have no inkling of the evil Goth is capable of committing. Of course with these two groups—Shade and his fellow exiles, Goth and Throbb on the rampage—wandering in the same skies, it’s inevitable that the hero and the villain will be forced into a confrontation.
Throughout the trilogy of Silverwing, Sunwing, and Firewing, Shade and his friend Marina meet up with several other bats and explore the world around them, giving the reader a “bat’s-eye view” of human activity such as zoos, conservation, and even warfare. It’s a very imaginative series, filled with lots of fantasy elements (particularly the last book, Firewing, which takes place in a bat’s conception of the underworld and is extremely terrifying and trippy), but with lots of realistic character development and moral problems.
I really enjoy Kenneth Oppel’s writing style, which is fast-paced yet without sacrificing thoughtfulness and thematic content. It’s often quite intense, which makes me want to “gobble” his books up like a little brown bat snatching up thousands of mosquitos. (Wow, sorry, that simile got entirely away from me.) But because of the violence (and the downright horrifying third book) I would only recommend these novels to a mature reader, probably no younger than fourteen. Personally I liked the first book the best, and much like the movie series Pirates of the Caribbean, I think one could easily read that one alone because it is probably the most self-contained and satisfying in its conclusion.