325 of 334 people found the following review helpful
The apocalyptic genre is an endearing phenomenon in fiction. Even after the collapse of the Cold War, authors are still pumping out new novels about the end of civilization. That's probably due to the fact that nuclear war isn't the only way to kill off the human race; Stephen King got a lot of mileage out of a killer virus in "The Stand." This book, by the excellent storyteller Robert McCammon, resembles King's classic novel in several respects, but McCammon sticks with the classic nuclear annihilation scenario in "Swan Song," a book written as the Cold War was winding down in the late 1980's.
"Swan Song" starts out on a bleak note, and quickly goes down hill from there. The world is in turmoil as terrorists use nuclear bombs with impunity, the U.S. and the USSR constantly engage in skirmishes around the world, and the economy does a nosedive straight into the ground. Inevitably, the bombs are launched and the world erupts in a thousand mushroom clouds. This is all within the first hundred pages or so. What follows is the real story, and McCammon pulls out all the stops introducing us to the characters that drive the story.
Just like McCammon's novel "Stinger," there are many major characters in "Swan Song." McCammon introduces us to Sister Creep, a New York bag lady fostering a horrific personal tragedy; Josh, a 7' black wrestler (known as Black Frankenstein) with a heart of gold; Colonel "Jimbo" Macklin, a former war hero with an ominous shadow dogging his every move; and Roland Croninger, a wise beyond his years child who grows into Macklin's sadistic acolyte.
This is post-apocalypse, so there is the unavoidable good vs. evil theme running through the book. The good is Swan, a young girl who has the power to renew earth's ecosystem. The bad is the man with the scarlet eye, a shape shifter who makes King's Randall Flag look like the Osmond family. The other characters revolve around these two figures as the grand finale of the novel nears.
McCammon has the ability to make his characters endearing and genuine. There are no cardboard cutouts in this book. Even tertiary characters are developed with loving care. It's relatively easy to draw evil characters because evil is easy to see. What is difficult is to craft characters on the other side of the moral coin, and McCammon does it with seeming ease. You learn to really care about these people, something that doesn't happen often in books of this genre.
The atmosphere in "Swan Song" is bleak and oppressive. McCammon has no qualms about presenting life in a post-nuclear world. Cruelty is presented as normal behavior, and characters are mutilated or killed off quite frequently. Warlords battle for control of the country while little villages try to recreate a sense of community. The endless description of a shattered world slowly instills in the reader a sense of despair. McCammon's vivid portrait of a world gone mad certainly resurrects images of the Cold War and its shrieking insanity, when the world lived under the constant shadow of agonizing death.
While "Swan Song" clocks in at a hefty 950 pages, its pages pass by like a swift summer breeze. In the final analysis, McCammon's message in this book is one of hope; no matter how badly the human race messes things up, salvation may still be within reach. That is a message that transcends any age, and that is the significance of "Swan Song."
111 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2001
Written in the mid-eighties, the book describes in chilling detail the nightmare of the times, i.e., nuclear holocaust. Some of the background events may be a bit outdated, but in light of the recent terrorist attacks we know there is still the threat of mass destruction. So my point is that the book is still pretty darn scary! The first couple of hundred pages that describe the nuclear attack and immediate aftermath are terrifying. The horrors that are described throughout the book are gruesome. America has become a scorched and barren landscape. The survivors miraculously scratch out an existence and somehow keep alive the hope of a future in which the sun will shine again and the land will bear fruit again. Ultimately, the story is about the struggle between good and evil, and how the stress of tragic events brings out the best in some and the worst in others.
For a book of over 900 pages, it is a surprisingly fast read, and there are no lulls. McCammon is a superb storyteller who has created memorable characters and a detailed setting. Swan Song is a great book that I think ranks along side The Stand, which for years has stood as my favorite horror novel.
123 of 134 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 1999
My aunt lent me this book and I figured it sounded a lot like the Stand, which at the time was my favorite novel. I read Swan Song every night for a week and a half. It was way better then the stand, and wasn't anything like it aside from the 'end of the world' scenario and an evil rising to threaten the survivors, so I'm not even going to compare the two books. The characters in Swan Song are so richly developped that you begin to feel for them. It's almost like you want to protect Swan just as much as the characters do. The last hundred pages or so are simply outstanding. It was so suspenseful that I could hardly sit still, and when it was over, I wished there was more to it then its 956 pages. The ending is what got me the most. There couldn't have been a more fitting end to this amazing story. I enjoyed everything about this book. It never gets boring, it doesn't have seven hundred characters in it all doing different things (like another novel i already said i wouldn't compare it to), but instead three main groups. The symbolism is just amazing, and the underlying themes and story is incredible. I can't say enough about it, so read it for yourself.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2013
I write this review in the knowledge that probably no one will read it - there are already over 700 reviews and almost all of them are five star. This review is part of that legion and that's fine by me.
So given I am writing this review for me - I will take some licence. Firstly I have read loads of PA ficton ( favorite so far is The Old Man and the Wasteland), but I hesitated with my purchase of Swan Song. I kept coming across references and praise of Swan Song. At $10 is was a lot more than many Kindle reads I buy. Then I thought, the last few books I read were only a couple of bucks - but they were c#%^ and pretty short too. So I thought, Swan Song is over 800 pages - so even if it is just okay it is still better value. So I bought it and have not experienced buyers remorse.
Swan Song draws you in. It is a different type of PA novel as it as a mystical undertone. Not in the kind of 'roll your eyes, give me a break' way - but a spiritual side to the story that adds to its depth and humanity. There are several concurrent plots which weave together as the story unfolds. Each sub plot is interesting. What surprised me was that I became so engrossed with one story line, I literally forgot about some other characters and was surprised when they reappeared. It was ' oh of course, I had completly forgotten about you guys'. That is a really good thing showing just how easy it is to become lost in the story.
If I was being ultra critical I would say that there was a certain 'convenience' of events towards the end. Also - and yes this is just a personal bugbear, the author has obviously had limited exposure to horses. Horses do not lap water like a dog - they suck it. They also really don't behave in the way Mule did. Yes, yes I know it is a minor point - but it was one of the few times in the story where an inaccuracy brought me out of the story and back to reality.
I see many reviewers have compared this to other books ( and no I am not going to reference the books). This really gets my goat. Swan Song is an original work that stands high in its own right. It is , in my opinion, almost insulting to say 'its just like xyz', 'it's as good as xyz'. Swan Song is a great read - enough said.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
I teach high school literature and this book is saved as a treat for those (who get permission) who have good taste and are not afraid of a big book. Students who have graduated have told me years later it was the best book they have ever read, and many buy a copy for themselves to keep and recommend to others. It has been voted as best book by many gifted students and upper level readers. Each time I read it, I enjoy it as well. It's good stuff.
40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2000
..but it comes pretty close. Sure, we don't know every detail of everyone's personality. Some of the minor characters seem sketched in without a lot of detail (but that's inevitable.. don't we all think of some people that way?). Some of the parts seemed to follow obvious formulas. But it was easy for me to look past those few flaws: this is after all, a work of science FICTION. Does anyone really believe God has some hand in the effects of nuclear radiation that will give everyone a different face? God isn't even mentoined or dwelled on too much, something I and any fellow agnostics find refreshing in such an epic book. But I digress.
Basically, you'll love Swan Song if you don't have the wrong expectations. It's an apocalyptic thriller, it's an action/adventure story, it's got some human drama, and there's some supernatural horror. I haven't read very many books that made me imagine so vividly what it would be like to be there.
By the way: this is in no way a ripoff of "The Stand." Are some people so devoid of imagination that they label all apocalypse-themed books as the same regardless of all their differences? Unlike "The Stand," this book has character growth, a real villain (a competent one, no less), and a real conflict at the end. And unlike King, McCammon doesn't rely on a (literal) Deus ex Machina ending to save his story. Pick up Swan Song if you're looking for a good read.. but be warned, it's hard to put down.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2000
I absolutely LOVED this book and hated to see it end. It started off a little slow, but really cranked up after the introduction of the many players in this apocalyptic fairy tale.
A motley crew of WWIII survivors - a 7' pro-wrestler called Black Frankenstein, a NY baglady, a deranged Army colonel, a cruel teenage boy and a young girl who holds the key to life in her hands - all become players in an epic battle between good and evil.
I won't pull any punches - the violence and cruelty is horrific and hard to stomache, but the hope and beauty that manage to peak through the clouds outshine the ugliness.
Robert McCammon does an extraordinary job of character development considering he has an enormous cast of characters to work with. I will certainly read more of his books. I can only hope that they are half as good as this one!
Now I think he needs to start work on a screenplay of Swan Song - Hollywood could sure use a movie or miniseries like this!
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2003
Most of the United States is wiped out after a nucleur holocaust. The Devil aka "Man With The Scarlet Eye" sees this as his opportunity to take over the world. However, there is a special girl named Swan with extraordinary powers that is standing in his way. "Swan Song" takes the reader on a ten year journey that follows the war of Swan and others around her, fighting against the Devil and his followers.
The first thing that I would like to get out of the way is that I absolutely hate to read. However, a friend of mine told me how great this book was, so I decided to come on Amazon to check out what others thought of it. I was amazed when I discovered that it received nothing but 5 star reviews. To put all that positive feedback to the test, I decided to give in and read the book. The book is over 950 pages long and I read it in just over two days. I was spellbound with just how great this book was. "Swan Song" is the only book that I have ever read, that I wanted to read more than once. The different settings, the outstanding characters, and the overall suspense and terror make it an epic masterpiece. The book reads at an extremely fast pace and the 956 pages fly by. This is one of the rare occasions that you end up begging for more after a novel of that size. The different settings that McCammon illustrates are incredible. All add a background of suspense, courage, love, and terror. The size of the story is great because it spawns over 10 years, and you get to see the characters develop not only in age, but in personality as well.
McCammon has the story unfold like a chess match between The Devil and God. They each have their respective pieces, and the board is the United States. God's main pieces are Swan, a courageous bag lady named Sister Creep, and a professional wrestler named Josh. Swan is amazing with her display of power and love. Sister Creep is the story's main hero with her courage and determination to never give up. Josh survives with Swan and becomes her guardian. The love that he shows for Swan never dies, and he posseses super human strength and a big heart. The Devil's main pieces are - the psychotic Army Col Macklin and his protege' Roland Kroniger. Macklin and Roland are the two lone survivors of an underground army camp. Macklin takes Roland under his wing, and the two fight to build an army based society with them giving the orders. The Devil himself is a great character who will terrify you with his actions and array of different powers. The book offers many other memorable characters that all possess cetain strengths and different personalities that make them all enjoyable.
So take it from a guy who hates to read. If I was able to make my way through this book and love every minute of it, anyone can. Many readers become hesitant to take on a book of this size or magnitude. Don't be, because it will be the best time that you ever spend on a novel.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
I had high hopes because of the frequent mentions of "The Stand" and over 560 reviewers giving it 5 stars.
This book started well enough. This book follows the survivors of WW3, a nuclear war that clouded the sky and started eterna winter. There is "Sister" and her group, Josh and Swan, Colonel "Jimbo" Macklin and Roland Croninger and finally the 'devil'. We get to experience the horror of surviving the nuclear blasts and suffering from the radiation and the dead dark earth. It is grim and to a large part I felt it was very realistic in human behaviour.
This contains SPOILERS...
Where I felt let down was that all characters are either pure / good or darkly evil / sociopaths - there is no middle ground. There are no normal intricate and mixed up people.
I found it very slow going, it could have lost 300 pages without denting the story. There was a constant struggle where the good always lost and all but the main characters keeps dying, evil flourishes - whilst I felt though being realistic, there was no balance, surely just once the good guys (beyond the core heros) would make it? Even at the point where the "Job Masks" break - the good have had their pure souls brought out whilst the evil characters become the monsters they were on the inside. It is so simplistic. There is no other religion but christianity either.
There was the unexplained:
* No radiation death even after having been directly in and walking though blast-zones.
* Humans losing all their humanity in just a few months. Sure it would happen over time but not that quickly.
* Every other person have "gone crazy".
* Why on earth in eternal winter would you move inland and not further and further south towards somewhat, hopefully warmer climate?
* Who/what was the 'devil'?
* What was the point of the glass ring and where did the power come from? Sister spends 7 years chasing Swan to give her the ring/crown. The impression we are given is that when Swan has the crown, something miraculous happens. Oh and it does sort of - when she tries it on she is covered by a golden glow that acts as a shield and then.......NOTHING! After all the build up of the crown, it wasn't even used! Why so much built around it?
* How did they succeed to dig and plant in the frozen ground of 7 years of winter - seriously if you've ever experienced snowy winter you know you can't without use of machines yet not only did they plant stuff but they dug deep trenches in less than 4 days!
Then after over 800-900 pages of of good losing to evil - good predictably conquers all in the last 50 or so pages. Not only that, but nuclear winter ends after 7 years just in time for the sun shine light on Sister's face as she dies and Swan's magical power brings back the earth to a wholesome pure christianity goodness. The ending felt like a monumental let down after all that suffering building up to a fizzle.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2001
I'm very suspicious of books with cover blurbs shrieking it's "a stunning tale of sheer fright and terror", and usually my suspicions are justified and result in very negative reviews of such "masterpieces". But as it was some time since I've read a horror flick, I decided to give the book a try. The opening 60 pages of tale how the nuclear holocaust was unleashed aggravated my suspicion of stumbling at another old-fashioned book using concept of cold wars and slogan "Wipe them Ivans off the map!". How passé!
But flicking through the pages I trudged on. And it happened: after some 80+ pages it got me hooked! I did put down this book several times, for a normal person with sound psyche can withstand only a certain number of macabre imprints of destroyed and poisoned world, of people gone low worse than animals, piles of corpses and all horrible deaths galore. Images that the book has produced even gave me a bad dream once (!).
The plot is has been described by other reviewers in details: not many survive the Bang, but all clutch to survival as best as they can: some help preserve crumbles of life and light (and Swan is one of them, the girl with the gift of bringing back life), some get to established their own "Neu Ordnung" by means well described in "Mein Kampf" (the Man with Red Eye is the Biggest Baddie of them, but to my mind, Roland, the boy King Knight gone berserk with blood lust and Colonel Macklin, eternal soldier haunted by war ghosts are even worse, for they are of human tribe). However, Swan seems not to be the person no 1 in the Book, without other human helpers (Sister, Josh, Robin) she would never make it to the end of the book. Some scenes touched me in unusual way - right to the heart, I felt such compassion to the characters. It is a rare thing in books like that. Several final chapters spun quick action movie-like sequences that somehow lessened the effect of doomed civilization and tragism created before. But the author had to end the book somehow, didn't he?
It's not a bedtime story: I have not read the Stand, but its TV adaptation is kids' babble in comparison with Swan Song's creating an ugly, violent, depressing and morbid picture. But still this book is better than many of King's inflated creations.