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Literature / Silverwing

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"Many of these animals had already been written about, and most of them were reasonably cuddly: horses, mice, pigs, rabbits, even spiders. But will kids be able to identify with bats?"
Kenneth Oppel, "Author's Note" in Silverwing

The Silverwing trilogy is a series of books written by Kenneth Oppel, consisting of Silverwing (1997), Sunwing (1999), and Firewing (2002). They're a sort of Gothic-esque fantasy adventure about bats, specifically the main character, Shade, a small Silverwing bat who is frequently mocked and called "Runt". After breaking one of the animal world's biggest rules, becoming a fugitive, and getting lost at sea during a migration, Shade goes on a wild adventure with a new friend, street-smart Tomboy Marina Brightwing. Things get worse when Goth and Throbb, two giant carnivorous bats from Brazil, escape a research facility and begin killing birds and other creatures at will. The little bats get blamed for it, landing Shade and his colony in a battle for the rights of all their kind.

Also related to the trilogy is a fourth book, Darkwing, which was released in 2007 and explores prehistoric bats. Dusk, a chiropter (a fictional name the author uses to describe the species) is the first of his kind who can actually fly instead of glide. During a time of evolutionary upheaval, he must lead his clan to safe new territory.


The series was also adapted into an animated series. See its page here.

These books contain the following tropes:

  • Action Bomb: The ultimate purpose of the metal bands is to turn a bat into one.
  • Aerith and Bob: Shade and Marina, their son Griffin, and the villain Goth. Most bats are named after "mythical" beings like Shade's mother Ariel and Zephyr or have a name related to nature, like Shade himself, and Mistral. Others have names that are used as normal human names like Frieda and Penelope. This goes for the other animals as well.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: This is how Goth and Throbb got out of the artificial jungle. Justifed as they are much smaller than people and have to fly vertically.
  • Alternate History: From what little information we are given of the Humans' activities during the main plot line, history is Like Reality, Unless Noted, with the major alteration being that in the Silverwing universe, Project X-ray actually succeeded.
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  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: Yes, during World War II the U.S. Military actually tried to turn bats into flying suicide bombers and guide them to targets using echolocation. This crosses over into "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer territory, as Oppel spends the afterword of the second book explaining the minutiae of Project X-Ray and why it failed in Real Life.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Played straight in the first two books with the Vampyrum Spectrum, Goth's race. However, in Firewing Murk is introduced.
  • Animal Religion: Most bats worship the goddess of the night, Nocturna. The Vampyrum spectrum false vampire bats worship the Mayan bat demon Cama Zotz, who claims to be Nocturna's brother in the third book.
  • Animals See in Monochrome: Kenneth Oppel mentions in the author's note of the first book that bats see in black-and-white, and points out that he never mentions any other color in the book. It has since been discovered that at least some bats do see in color.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The evolution of chiropters into bats in Darkwing is essentially shown to be more similar to Evolutionary Levels than actual evolution, as it is revealed that it is happening independently in different communities of chiropter. Also it is shown that echolocation, wing structure and flight all occurred at once, while it is almost certain these features appeared gradually.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology:
    • In Darkwing, it's said that dinosaurs (and pterosaurs) became extinct because they were cold-blooded and couldn't cope with climate change, when evidence points to dinosaurs and pterosaurs being to some degree warm blooded. On the other hand, some more up to date concepts such as birds being dinosaur descendants are also mentioned, so it's a mixed bag.
    • While Darkwing is said to be set shortly after the K/Pg extinction event, so recently that the characters still remember them and a few straggler saurians are still around, almost all the species depicted are only known from the Late Palaeocene or Eocene, which is millions of years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, much too late for there to be any large dinosaurs or pterosaurs still kicking about. Most of the species are also from different specific time periods within this timespan, which the author acknowledges.
    • While birds are noted in-text as descendants of dinosaurs, this fact does still raise some questions, such as why they are not targeted as part of the the pact to destroy all saurian eggs, how they can communicate with mammals but other saurians can't, or why they are not affected by the flesh-rotting disease.
  • Back from the Dead: In Firewing: Luna, Griffin, Goth
  • The Bad Guy Wins: A borderline example, in that Goth comes back from the dead while Shade does not.
  • Bat Out of Hell: Averted (and still played straight, if you think about it)
  • Beat Still, My Heart: The Vampyrum do that to their sacrificial animals in the second book. At one point (after a dream) Goth becomes obsessed with ripping Shade's heart out of his chest and eating it while Shade watches.
  • Big Bad: Goth in the first two books, Cama Zotz himself in the third.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The rats and owls at the end of Sunwing.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Used in Firewing; see The Hero Dies.
  • Blind Seer: Zephyr
  • Bloody Bowels of Hell: Firewing's idea of the Bat Underworld is actually pretty nice. But piss off Cama Zotz and you get a one-way ticket down his digestive tract.
  • Body-Count Competition
  • Broken Bird: Marina, who was abandoned by her whole colony.
  • The Brute: Goth and Throbb.
  • Bully Turned Buddy: Chinook; he was originally a huge jerk to Shade due to him being a fatherless runt, but gradually began to worry about him after he vanishes and regrets being so mean to him.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The "Predators Are Mean" variant appears in the first two books, but in Firewing Murk lampshades and defies it.
  • Cats Are Mean: Not actual cats, but the cat-like predator Miacis in Darkwing, which are given the nickname "felids". (More precisely, one particular band of Miacis who have acquired a taste for meat.)
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Zephyr and Shade's sound abilities.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The leaf used to help Shade go to sleep in the middle of Silverwing is used later in the story to drug Goth.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In the very first chapter Shade is hunting an insect who confuses him with some sound tricks. At the end of the first book, Shade is attacked by an owl and he tries to confuse it by imitating the moth. It works. Over the course of the second book Shade becomes very good at using sound to fight his enemies. Also in the second book, this trick allows him to realize that the bands are tricking them into becoming suicide bombers.
  • The Chessmaster: Cama Zotz.
  • Clear My Name
  • Continuity Cameo:
    • In Sunwing, Shade isn't sure what to do next on his adventure, so he uses sound to call Zephyr from Silverwing to help. Note that Zephyr is on a different continent.
    • Frieda and Throbb are seen again in the Bat Underworld in Firewing.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Cannibals Goth and Throbb eat a group of bats and wear the metal bands as trophies.
  • Cult: A group of banded bats led by Scirocco, who believe that the bands will allow them to transform into humans.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Murk, a friendly vampire bat. And, in theory, a good chunk of the good guys, since the main protagonists are bats.
  • David Versus Goliath: Goth and Throbb are portrayed as big muscular bullies. Contrast with protagonist Shade, who often uses his intelligence to solve problems. For bonus points Shade is considered a runt even by his species' standards.
  • Demoted to Extra: Despite having a very major role in the first two books, this happens to Marina in Firewing.
  • Disability Superpower: Zephyr, an oracle, is a blind albino bat, has an uncannily acute sense of hearing. He can hear what happens in the past and future, and can even hear the stars.
  • Disappeared Dad: Shade's dad, Cassiel.
  • Doing in the Wizard : The mysterious bands are revealed in the second book to be part of the US Military's Project X-ray, which tried to turn bats into suicide bombers. Played with as the spoiler is a real-life event which was adopted as a spiritual calling by the bats, who had no reason to know any better.
  • Enemy Mine: The bats, rats, and owls captured by the Vampyrum Spectrum in South America team up to fight their captors.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Cama Zotz, the god of the Vampyrum Spectrum, when he finally appears in Firewing, takes on the form of a monstrous bat-like creature but can appear as just about anything he wants.
  • Eldritch Location: The Bat Underworld is completely composed of sound and Cama Zotz can reshape it as he pleases.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Cama Zotz complains about this. Played pretty straight too, given the role he plays. Then again his portrayal in the Mayan myths is not all that flattering either.
  • The Evil Prince: Goth, until later when he becomes king. Averted with Orestes.
  • Eye Scream: The colony in Darkwing encounters a large nest of shrew-like creatures with paralyzing saliva called soricids. Two of the hyaenodons get bitten by them, and they collapse and are quickly stripped to the bone by the things. The Fridge Horror sets in when you really go through this scene in your mind: They are paralyzed. Not dead, paralyzed. Therefore, they can feel everything that is happening to them. Imagine little shrew teeth stripping your face away, including their teeth digging out your eyes.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence/Family-Unfriendly Death: Quite a bit, although more concentrated in Firewing. Examples include a bat having his heart ripped out and eaten, and a young bat being burned to death. Shade at one point attempts to cripple an enemy by biting his ears off.
  • Fate Worse than Death: In Firewing, Goth gets swallowed briefly by Cama Zotz as a You Have Failed Me. Goth doesn't stay there permanently, but for other bats this is their eternal punishment...
  • Feathered Fiend: Birds in general tend to be antagonistic, though the bats make peace with the owls in Sunwing, and a young bird in Darkwing warns Dusk of the felids.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Shade and Chinook
  • First Time in the Sun: Played with: The whole plot of the first book is set in motion when Shade dares to stay up long enough to see the sun (which, as a bat, he is not allowed to do). When the owls burn down his home as punishment, he decides to give the sun back to all bats. Later he and his friend Marina fly in bright daylight and they are amazed about how different the world looks and how warm the sun is. However, they do have some problems. Also, the darkness is not shown as something horrible and Shade is described as a creature of the night and he is happy with it. Other bats even question the necessity of seeing the sun and the young ones are afraid the sun will blind them or turn them into dust.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first book, an elder explains to Shade that the Humans are fighting a war of their own. In the second book, said war turns out to be World War II, which can lead to a huge Oh, Crap! moment for anyone familiar with the history of Project X-Ray.
  • Gentle Giant: Java, a Foxwing. She has a wingspan of 5 feet, and she is the most mellow character in the series.
  • Genius Bruiser: Goth, who is not only large but cunning.
  • Half-Breed Angst: In the third book, Griffin is a hybrid Silverwing-Brightwing bat. He feels like a bit of a freak because he looks like a combination of his parents' species and doesn't completely fit in with the Silverwings that they live with.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Where's Nocturna? Oh, Cama Zotz killed her.
  • The Hero Dies: In Firewing, Shade sacrifices himself so his son Griffin and his friend can feed off his life force and become living beings again. Griffin, one of the protagonists of the book, was also killed by Goth, who stole his life force to return to life.
  • Heroic Bastard: Shade's missing father plays a big role in his motivations for the first two books. At the end of Sunwing, they are finally reunited.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Shade attempts to pull this one off near the end of Sunwing, where he tries to stop a bomb from falling using only sound. He survives, only to do a real Heroic Sacrifice at the end of Firewing.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • In Silverwing, Goth and Throbb, when their metal bands cause them to be struck by lightning.
    • In Sunwing, Voxzaco, when his last-ditch bomb plan fails.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: In the setting, Humans are seen as a strange and powerful species that are incomprehensible to animals. Most bats fear humans, some like Goth are openly hateful of them, and some like those in Sirocco's cult worship them as gods. Many banded bats in particular regard their bands as holy and part of some great purpose even after it's shown the bands are to designate bats to be used as suicide bombers for a human war experiment.
  • Human Sacrifice: The bat version!
  • Interspecies Romance: Shade is a Silver-haired bat. He eventually becomes mates with Marina, an Eastern red bat.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Lampshaded in Firewing, where one bat in the Bat Underworld, Yorick, died by smashing into a tree while strong gusts of wind were blowing, and he has to spend his eternity in the Underworld with a half-broken wing. He demands to know where the justice in that is. Though not all dead bats get this - a bat who died by being eaten is whole in the Underworld, which especially annoys Yorick.
  • Joker Immunity: Goth. He survives getting struck by lightning in the first book, and manages to literally cheat death in the third.
  • Killer Rabbit: The soricids in Darkwing are first said to be harmless. Then it turns out they're actually very aggressive. And have venomous bites. And there are a lot of them. They even end up killing two Hyaenodon, which are large predatory mammals.
  • Kill It with Fire: How the owls destroy Tree Haven.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: The banded cult offer one up to Marina in Silverwing. Luna also gets one in Firewing. Dusk in Darkwing meets an other flying chiropter who asks him to join her colony, but he declines. At the end of the book he decides to visit her.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Goth, and just Vampyrum Spectrum in general, are very strong and very fast.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: In Firewing there is a cave where the dead bats see their past lives. Most of them eventually forget where they are and slowly turn into stone.
  • Magpies as Portents: One non-speaking Magpie appears briefly towards the book's conclusion, curiously investigating the recently lightning-struck villainous vampire bat, Goth; he's promptly killed and eaten when Goth comes to.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Shade learns to do this.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Goth & Cama Zotz.
  • Master of Illusion: Shade, eventually. Following Zephyr's example, he learns to manipulate sound. Since bats use echolocation, this ability translates to feats such as invisibility and projecting illusions.
  • Meaningful Name: Many. To name a few, there's:
    • Marina, who's named such because she's introduced on an abandoned island
    • Griffin, who's half-Silverwing, half-Brightwing.
    • Romulus and Remus, two rat princes who don't quite get along. Sound familiar?
    • Dusk, at least in the German translation where he is named "Dämmer". "Dämmer" or "Dämmerung" can mean both dusk or twilight, but also dawn. And those flying chiropter are indeed the dawn of a new species.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Murk.
  • Mysterious Animal Senses: Averted, all characters see a monochrome world, and as such, not one color is mentioned in the series.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: With names like Goth and Throbb, they have to be evil. Subverted with Murk. This even gets Lampshaded by Shade at one point - when Murk introduces himself, Shade thinks, "Goth... Throbb... Murk... who names these bats?"
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The city near Goth's home is obviously Rio De Janiero,(it even has the statue of Jesus) but is never named.
  • Not Quite Dead: Goth should have died after getting struck by lightning, but lucky for him a god was watching out for him.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Goth uses this. As does Romulus.
  • Possible War: America bombs Brazil. Why? Who cares?
  • Prequel in the Lost Age: Darkwing
  • Prophet Eyes: Zephyr has them.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Frieda
  • Religion of Evil: The cannibal bats' religion, which involves sacrificing others.
  • Sequel Hook: Goth just can't stay dead, can he? At the end of Firewing he got out of the Underworld and began gathering followers for Zotz.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Bridge City is the real life bat colony in Austin, Texas, and Statue Haven is Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Cama Zotz was a bat god, worshiped by a real cult among the Zapotec Indians. (Camazotz was also used as the name of a planet in Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, making it a possible Shout-Out, or just plain coincidence).
    • It's mentioned on the author's website that colours are never mentioned in the Silverwing books, except for silver, black, and the like. That's because bats are colour blind.
    • That crazy "bats drop bombs" plot? That was actually considered in WWII by the U.S, but the idea was quickly dropped thanks to a test run that failed spectacularly. And the soricids way of hunting via paralyzing their prey and eating it? That’s how most shrew species today hunt
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: The series is on the low end. The bats understand why humans would want to study animals, how things like doors work and have religions yet they can see with sound and are colourblind. They also have difficulty crawling anywhere.
  • Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying: The owls can use echolocation for some reason. Real owls have good hearing and use it for hunting, but don't actually echolocate.
  • Taken for Granite: The fate of the bats who stay in the Lotus-Eater Machine cave.
  • Thieving Magpie: Poor thing wanted those metal bands from this weird half dead giant bat so badly...
  • Took a Level in Badass: Shade, Marina, Dusk
  • Uncertain Doom: Carnassial is last seen leaping in fury at a young Saurian which has bitten down on his mate Panthera. It's stated that Saurians are much too powerful for any beasts to face head-on, but at the same time it's a Foregone Conclusion that Miacis did end up descending to the carnivorans...
  • Warrior Prince: Goth and Orestes are pretty badass.
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: Yorick.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Shade's a runt, but he's got some incredible sound tricks.
  • Weaponized Animal: In Sunwing, bombs are strapped to bats in an attempt to weaponize them. This is based on a real life plan where bombs were strapped to actual bats to be used to attack a city.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Averted; the main characters are bats, which most people don't find cute at all. The author actually noted this, and his thoughts are in the page quote.
  • World War II: The setting for the first two books.
  • Xenofiction
  • You Dirty Rat!: Subverted. The rats are initially hostile to Shade and Marina, but they befriend Prince Romulus. Romulus would go on to become king and an important ally of the bats.
  • Zerg Rush: The soricids in Darkwing.