The Prophecy. By Hilari Bell. Eos. $6.50.
Knight and Rogue I: The Last Knight. By Hilari Bell. Eos. $16.99.
Dead Water Zone. By Kenneth Oppel. HarperTeen. $6.99.
Darkwing. By Kenneth Oppel. Eos. $16.99.
Here are two book pairs, each providing an opportunity to visit (or revisit) an older novel that is now in paperback, and to encounter for the first time a new book by the same author. When that author is Hilari Bell, the novels are likely to be of consistently high quality, as are these two. The Prophecy, originally published last year and now available in paperback, is the story of Prince Perryn, a book-loving scholar who cannot manage to get the hang of weaponry and cannot rely much on magic, either, since it seems to be disappearing. The prophecy of the title tells Perryn how to kill a dragon that the attacking Norsemen have bound to their will. But the prophecy relies, as all such things seem to, on the very magic that is leaving the world. There are elements of both comedy and tragedy here, but by the end, the overall tone of the tale has become serious – and although Perryn’s eventual emergence as a blend of king and scholar will surprise few readers, the adventures through which he reaches his goal do contain plenty of surprises.
The Last Knight starts a new
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Oppel’s new Darkwing is fantasy, not science fiction, and it returns to the world of his Silverwing trilogy about bat clans (Silverwing, Sunwing and Firewing). Darkwing is a prequel to the other books, taking place as the age of dinosaurs ends. Indeed, the winged saurians of the dinosaur age are believed to be extinct – until Dusk, the protagonist of this novel, sees one while exploring in the tree canopy. In his clan, Dusk alone can fly and see in the dark, but these are not seen as positive evolutionary adaptations by the clan, where being different leads to, at best, being shunned by other clan members. Dusk is fortunate: he is the son of the clan leader and therefore protected, at least for a time, from the others’ enmity. His status as a clan outsider, and the “outsider” status of the remaining winged saurians, are set against the plans of a creature called Carnassial: a predator who also has reasons for being concerned about the winged saurians, and who leads an attack on Dusk’s island that results in a massacre and forces Dusk and the few other survivors to leave their homes forever. The predator-and-prey relationships and dominance bids are the standard stuff of heroic fantasy; because the plot proceeds pretty much straightforwardly, Darkwing earns a (+++) rating. Still, Oppel’s setting (65 million years ago) and his decision to choose bats (actually “pre-bats” that he calls “chiropters”) as protagonists give Darkwing additional interest, especially for those who enjoyed the modern bats featured in the Silverwing trilogy.