I read this book back when it was first published in the ‘80’s. I was still in high school, had big frizzy hair, wore too much blue eyeliner and pretty much hated my life. I spent most of my free time haunting the local Osco drug for the newest horror paperbacks to escape it all. When I saw this huge tome (900+ pages) I scurried back home with it thinking I had just hit the jackpot. And I had. It turned out to be one of the best horror novels I’d ever read and I was reading a lot back then. This is why I was hesitant to revisit it, some 26 years later, afraid I’d tarnish my memory of fiction perfection.
But I did it anyway. I can’t read 900 page tomes anymore because my brain shuts down at the thought but I can read them on unabridged audio. Swan Song became my driving companion for over three weeks and now that I’m finished I already miss the soothing voice of Tom Stechschulte. I’ll have to snap up something else he’s narrated. Maybe “The Road” if I can bring myself to listen to it.
If you’ve read this you already know it’s one of the best end of the world novels ever written, if you haven’t read it yet and you’re a fan of the new apocalypse books flooding the shelves, you really need to do yourself a favor and read this one. It is set in the 80’s and we are at war with Russia, trigger fingers set off nuclear bombs and kaboom the world as we know it is gone. The rest of the book focuses on a cast of characters as they make their way in this entirely new world void of all creature comforts like fresh water, sunshine, and warmth. But out of the destruction, a little magic blooms too. Two camps basically evolve. There are the murdering, raping pillagers and the decent people who want to restore the earth and rebuild. The two have an epic, classic collision of good vs. evil. Those are the bare bones of the story but it’s so much more than that. It’s heartbreaking and full of loss as well as hope and it is so worth your time.
A few notes that you should be aware of before digging in:
1. The book doesn’t start with a huge bang. There’s enough setup and character back story here for 3 or 4 modern day books. Woo hoo for me because I can never get enough of that stuff (when it’s good) but maybe not for everyone?
2. The action takes a little bit to get going but once it starts there is a lot of it and it’s described in vivid detail. I’m not a huge action fan and I admit I did doze off when the military maneuvers went on (and on).
3. The book skips around from group to group. There are a lot of characters to wrap your head around and I was a little confused here and there but eventually you get to know most of them very intimately. Many of them are flawed people and they’re all changed by their time on the road. I think I enjoyed that aspect most of all. Be warned though, some of these people who you will grow to love will die and you will probably cry. Maybe for a few days.
4. This sucker is a 34 hour listen. I thought the narrator did a fantastic job with most of the characters. For the most part, he gave them distinctive voices with the exception of the villains at the very end (to me they all sounded the same screeching out their scratchy-voiced commands). You may want to find a sample online and give it a listen before committing. 34 hours is a long freaking time if the narrator isn’t working for you.
5. There’s a hell of a lot of violence and it’s not the prettified, glossy kind. Be prepared.
6. There is a strong, 50ish female character as a lead. Where can you find that nowadays? If you find one , tell me so I can buy it.
7. There is even a little smidge of a sweet romance amidst all of the chaos.
See, there’s something for everyone! Now go read it.