Being a sucker for apocalyptic stories, I always felt an emptiness never having read Swan’s Song. Finally, faced with it once again at the bookstore, I finally caved in and started it within days, eager for some morbid thrills and end of the world depression.
First off, the novel is alive with strong characters – from the intriguing, kind hearted Swan; the hermit you have to love, Paul; the determined, previously homeless Sister; the warped, demented Roland; the power hungry, self centered Colonel Mackley, and the rest, it’s easy to drown in their personal lives and trials. The rich characterization is a giant leap from what could have been a more mediocre book to what it turned out as. I cared about nearly everyone and, for a change, almost all of his or her back-stories. Usually I become more involved with one character’s plight more than another’s, causing me to start feeling antsy when too much time passes where they’re not mentioned in detail. Here I enjoyed all the subplots, something that’s unusual for me, but another sign of the book’s power.
The pace for a novel of this size is ideal. Around the same page size as the Stand, the pace is swift and something’s always going on both behind the lines and on the current page. Almost constantly there’s something going down that involves the main plot and something intimate to each character involved. The beginning shows needed character description while setting up the right mood – from the presidents’ guilt and indecision, to the little girls’ abusive situation, to Roland’s morbid fascination with the underground ‘cave’. Then, finally, the blow hits and all is chaotic from there. This is a bomb that blew up from the get go, not from smoke, then a fizzle, followed by as slow burning. The ending was a great wrap up with loss, irony, and peace too – a nice morbid mixture that manages to leave the reader with the empty feeling they love, but the happy, warm one as well.
In terms of plot, bravo! Having the two internal armies against each other and all fighting for survival (for different reasons) worked well. I especially enjoyed the little unique tidbits about the group of people stealing from the dead and the strange disease names. It all created a sense of more realistic tragedy than would have existed otherwise. The motivations of the villains wasn’t what I would have expected if I were plotting the story or thinking it out myself – a true side of human nature that hasn’t been explored enough.
McCammon’s writing style is admirable; his words flow together in rich prose, easy to understand, the right words chosen to draw the right picture. Multiple POV is used, which is almost mandatory for a novel of this size and direction.
Why a four rating instead of a five? The book, while excellent and highly recommended, just wasn’t as interesting as other apocalyptic novels I have read – The Stand and Strangers worked a little bit better for that. It’s a great story, a powerfully written one, but it’s slightly more lukewarm when held up against other novels of it’s breed.
Despite that, though, one can never delve into enough apocalyptic warfare tales. Pick it up immediately to rid yourself of your own empty feeling.