Okay, I have to say this up front; in many ways, Swan Song
is a very stupid book. It's highly
derivative of Stephen King's The Stand
, to which everyone compares it to, for good reason, and Robert McCammon is no Stephen King.
When I say it's derivative, I don't mean I think McCammon was deliberately imitating The Stand
, though I can't imagine he was unfamiliar with King's novel, and assuming he was, it's kind of amazing how many obvious similarities there are that he didn't see fit to alter a smidgen. In Swan Song
, it's a nuclear war that wipes out most of the human race, but from there it proceeds much like The Stand
. We see the good guys' lives in the days before the apocalypse, and the bad guys', and then we see what goes down and how the good guys and the bad guys gather in their respective groups, and of course it all leads to a final confrontation deciding the fate of the world.
And yet here I am giving this stupid, derivative book 5 stars. Why? 'Cause I just loved it. It's just a great post-apocalytic epic full of memorable characters and action and adventure and magic and love, and what can I say, I am a sucker for big honkin' doorstopper novels about the end of the world. McCammon puts his book through every trope in the post-apocalyptic checklist: pretty virginal magical white girl with a heart that is pure who will remake the world? Check. Helpful colored people who assist her on her quest? Check. Cartoonishly evil psychopathic bad guys with, like, carved wooden nail-studded hands and big black torture trailers they haul around and a Joker-like madman who plays gladiatorial games with people and then practices messy taxidermy with the losers? Check. Doomsday devices and final heroic sacrifices and True Love pretty much appearing out of thin air? Check. A magical MacGuffin that exists to conveniently manifest magic powers to lift the protagonists past little derailing plot holes? Check.
But damn, it's a good read. It's just one of those books you have to read without thinking too much. Turn off your inner critic, turn your sensitivity to annoying tropes way down, and Swan Song
is crackin' great apocalyptic fun.
So, my 5-star rating should not be construed as endorsing this as a Great Work or the Best Post-Apocalyptic Novel Ever or anything like that. Sometimes I just have to rate a book on my gut reaction, and all 956 pages of this thing were page-turners. I almost dropped it a star for the ending, which not only combined deux ex machinas with ticking time bomb countdowns and supposedly-dead characters conveniently rising up to deliver one last smiting and heroes running through gauntlets of narrow and improbable escapes and tearjerker sacrifices, but also some really, really bad (like head-bangingly bad) science. Of course since the book has been randomly interjecting supernatural events with no explanation since the beginning, I guess it's kind of pointless to complain about how I'm pretty sure even 30 25-megaton nuclear bombs will not melt the ice caps and they certainly will not "throw the earth off its axis." But come on
Still, like I said, I am a sucker for this kind of book, including the tearjerker sacrifices and the Magical Girl randomly chosen by some Higher Power to save the world. So if you like this kind of story, do read it for the pure fun of it. But I will understand if those with less affection for the occasional pure cheese genre read do not find themselves compelled to read 956 pages of bad guys chasing good guys through a nuclear winter.