A blast from the past this week, with this classic Bram Stoker winning horror tome from the late 80s. I read this on the trusty Kindle. I dread to think how thick the print version is. You could probably hollow it out and live in it. Still, if you’re going to write about the end of the world then you need to do it justice.
The author certainly does that. It’s an epic tale of nuclear Armageddon that spans seven years from when the mushroom clouds go up and has a large cast of interesting and well developed characters – from the eponymous Swan, the young girl who can breathe life through her fingers (a skill that proves handy in the radioactive wasteland) to the ex-wrestler Josh, who becomes her guardian. Others include an ex-bag lady from NYC, a Dungeons & Dragons obsessed psychotic teenager, a power-crazed Vietnam Vet and the brilliant Man with the Scarlet Eye, the Randall Flagg of the book.
I bring in Stephen King’s apocalyptic book at this point because the similarities are much discussed and very evident: the world ends; the survivors form into two camps, good and bad; the goodies are all brought together by a mystical link; the main baddie may or may not be the Devil himself. But that’s about it, and both authors go off in their different directions. King’s version is undeniably the better (IMO) but McCammon’s version is pretty darn good, too.
It does feel a bit dated, with the frosty relations between West and East having thawed considerably since the nervy 80s. But that doesn’t matter really. This is still a cracking tale, which will entertain you over many a night (maybe a few months if you’re a slow reader). It’s certainly interesting to see how the characters develop and gradually discover each other. The observations about how wretched humanity will become in such a scenario are probably pretty accurate, too.
This isn’t a classic literary experience. If you want that then pick up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But nor is it airport trash. Maybe somewhere in-between. I’d go for The Stand first if you haven’t read that yet. But if you’ve already enjoyed it then chances are you’ll enjoy this. Put it this way: if you’re heading away on holiday and need a big, fat book to keep you going on the beach; one you won’t mind too much if it becomes dog-eared and covered in sand, this is the one for you. Four Black Stars.
Book Review: Swan Song – Author Robert R.McCammon