David's Reviews > Swan Song

Swan Song by Robert McCammon
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Jul 16, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: post-apocalyptic, horror, doorstopper, nuclear-war, science-fiction, 1980s, american-fantasy, great-villains, cheesy-dumb-fun, sociopaths
Recommended for: Magical girls with magical green thumbs, Randall Flag-I mean, the Man with the Scarlet Eye
Read from June 02 to July 21, 2012

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 (view spoiler) 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.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King An excellent review David.


David Thanks!


Barbara I agree with you, point by point. And I too tst plain loved it.

I read one of his more recent novels -- he's switched to historical fiction. My reaction was similar -- not great writing but enjoyable.

Sometimes, I just want a hamburger.


message 4: by Ron (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ron I loved the first half of this book and thought it was much superior to The Stand, but then it started going downhill quickly as the story progressed. The bad guys became more cartoonish, the screwball got more comically diabolical, and everything else got generally more fantasy-like, than apocalyptic. I think McCammon lost me completely at the "Snow White" moment. I ended up not even finishing the book.


message 5: by Trey (new) - added it

Trey Hi, David,

This book is 3rd in queue from my current book read and since it's in the immediate lineup, I've ran some searches on it. I came across one interesting note: there is a minute religious aspect lightly brushed across the story. Did you notice this? If so, could this have depreciated your read-thru?
Not accusing, just very curious.

Thank you, David.


David The religious aspect to it is very similar to The Stand, where King all but makes explicit that Mother Abigail is a prophet of the Lord while Randall Flagg is Satan. Swan Song similarly contains many messages implying that a divine power is aiding the good guys. I don't think it really affected how I felt about either book. Since supernatural elements are present in both, adding the implied presence of divine and infernal powers seems natural enough.


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