Book review

Firewing by Kenneth Oppel (2002)

If you enjoy stories about talking animals, this is one for you.

Griffin is a newborn bat. Actually he is a cross between a Silverwing and a Brightwing:

He had stupid fur. Most of it was black, but all across his back and chest were jagged bands of dazzling bright hair. The bright stuff came from his mother, a Brightwing. His father was a Silvewing, but it seemed he took after his mother more. Like her, his fur grew longer and thicker than the Silverwings, and his ears were a different shape, round, small and close to the head. His wings were longer and narrower than the other newborns, but that wasn't really a consolation, because they still felt too big on him, made his flight all loose and jerky in the forest.

There's something else that singles Griffin out from the rest of the newborns too. His parents are heroes, but Griffin is rather intimidated by their reputation:

If his father did any more amazing things, the whole echo chamber would explode. When he'd first heard all these stories, from his mother, from the elders, from other newborns sometimes, he'd pictured his father as a giant, with wings that would blot out the moon. Then he'd learned his father was born a runt.
That made everything much, much worse.
A runt, and still brave and daring.

Actually, Griffin is a rather timid bat, always seeing the dangerous side of any activity. But you can't always say no to everything your friends are doing. Unfortunately for Griffin, the day he decides to join in, he can't cope, and things go badly wrong. His best friend, Luna, is seriously injured. Griffin is mortified and runs away in shame and grief, only to be overcome by a terrible natural disaster. There is an earthquake and Griffin falls through a crack in the earth.

Wherever the strange place is that Griffin finds himself, he must face up to the reality of the situation and try to do the best he can, both for himself and for the friends that he finds down there. Believe me, Griffin is going to find qualities that he did not know he possessed. And that is a good thing, because Griffin is going to meet his superhero father, who comes looking for him down below, and also his father's most deadly enemy, Goth, the Vampire bat.

They may be charming, fluffy little things, these bats, but they make deadly enemies ...

A nail-biter, I loved this book. I don't normally expect to enjoy talking animal stories, but this one has an unnerving kind of reality. And, I was completely taken aback by the ending ... Brilliant!

What can I read next?

Firewing is the third book in a trilogy. You should read them in order:

  • Silverwing
  • Sunwing
  • Firewing

If you really enjoy talking animals, you might like to look at this excellent story by Robert C O'Brien:

Or you could have a look at this classic by Mary Norton:

If you really enjoyed the way Kenneth Oppel tells the story of deadly enemies, you might like to look at this brilliant book by Philip Reeve:

Or this fantastic story by Chris Wooding:

Actually, I haven't (yet) reviewed the book on this website, but Firewing reminded me very strongly of this powerful story by Dick King-Smith:

  • Godhanger

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