Book Review: Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Swan Song definition:

noun

  1. a person’s final public performance or professional activity before retirement.

I have vivid dreams every night but my most common recurring dream is of the apocalypse. They come in many varieties. I’ve had zombie apocalypse dreams, demonic apocalypse dreams, nuclear fallout apocalypse dreams. Clearly, the apocalypse is something that’s deeply embedded into my subconscious.

I read the Stand by Stephen King when I was 19 and I loved it. I’ve long since wanted more great apocalypse fiction, and though I’ve read other apocalyptic books, including the Road, nothing quite achieved the same epic level of realization that King managed in the Stand. Until now.

Swan Song is the best apocalyptic novel of all time. I love the Stand, don’t get me wrong, but I liked Swan Song more. This novel is like a Russian doll. You know, one of those little wooden dolls with layers. Each top layer of the doll you take apart reveals another layer beneath and so on.

McCammon has written a novel that is terrifying, funny, touching, and approaches levels of epic conflict that rival the best fantasy books. The story follows a significantly diverse cast of characters including a washed-up wrestler, a crazy bag lady in New York, and a nerdy boy who loves computer games.

What I think makes Swan Song exceptional is how dynamic the characters are. The story starts before the apocalypse, so we get a glimpse of these people before the world ends. That makes it incredibly satisfying, and also striking, how much they change. In some cases it’s rags to riches, in others it’s riches to rags, but the change of role from pre-apocalypse to post-apocalypse was very satisfying. The way people change also reflects how the world has changed.

Swan Song is not a short book. At 960 pages, it’s a big read, but I didn’t think it lulled at all. I was completely transfixed from the minute I picked it up until I reached the exceptional conclusion. The ending is SO good. I think that’s part of the reason I preferred it to the Stand. I was in tears at the end of Swan Song.

The writing itself is very well done and interesting. McCammon opted for third person omniscient, which means you know what every character is thinking and feeling in most scenes, but he does a wonderful job. Despite this potentially confusing way of telling a story, there’s the utmost clarity and I never got lost or confused while reading.

The antagonist is Swan Song is incredible. It’s a very original idea for a monster and I loved its introduction to the narrative. There’s also depth there which was really cool to see for a monster that appears, on the surface, to be unwaveringly cruel and evil.

There are many similarities between Swan Song and the Stand, including an impending battle between good and evil in an apocalyptic world. If you enjoyed the Stand, you’re very likely to enjoy Swan Song.

 

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