________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover Firewing.

Kenneth Oppel.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2002.
261 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 0-00-639194-X.

Subject Headings:
Bats-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Helen Norrie.

**** /4


Ken Oppel's third volume in the "Silverwing" series continues the adventures of Shade and, this time, of his son, Griffin, but in a whole new setting - the Underworld. When Griffin makes the mistake of attempting to steal fire from humans in order to demonstrate his bravery and live up to his famous father's reputation, there is a horrible accident, and his friend, Luna, is terribly burned. Ashamed and saddened, Griffin takes refuge in a cavity in the roots of a tree. An earthquake occurs, and Griffin is plunged down a newly opened fissure in the earth into the Land of the Dead.

Firewing is a darker story than its predecessors and may pose a few problems for its readers in terms of understanding. Many of its images can be interpreted as religious allusions, such as the Underworld, a kind of Purgatory where everything appears beautiful but is really false. The only hope for its inhabitants comes from the Pilgrims who spread word of a better life for those who will take a long and difficult journey to the Tree. While life after the tree is not spelled out, it is understood that it is a form of heaven where dead souls will be reunited and where they will recognize each other. (In the Underworld, they have no memory of their former life). In addition, salvation comes through sacrifice.

     Shade braves the dangers of the Underworld to try to rescue his son. In doing so, he comes once again in conflict with the evil Goth. Ken Oppel has neatly solved the problem of how to resurrect both the villains and heroes who died in the previous book by making them all inhabitants of this lower region. Thus, readers also meet Frieda, clan-mother of Shade's colony, who reemerges as a Pilgrim.

     Firewing again demonstrates Ken Oppel's vivid imagination and ability to make the mind and life of the bats both fascinating and believable. In a reading from the book recently (May 2002) in Winnipeg, young listeners hung on every word and followed the reading with intelligent questions which displayed a keen knowledge and interest in the series. If their enthusiasm is any indication, Firewing is destined once again to be a definite success.

Highly recommended.

Helen Norrie is the children's book columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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ISSN 1201-9364