Swan Song by Robert McCammon

10/10 Always interesting, a must for fans of dystopian fiction.

Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen - from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City - will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artefact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Once the decision had been made to incorporate a section devoted to dystopian fiction within Fantasy Book Review there was no question in my mind that Robert McCammon's Swan Song was a must-have. I first read the book around 7 years ago - I had just started a new job and a woman I worked with, Alison, suggested I should read Swan Song. She said it was brilliant. And she was right, and I will always be thankful to her for recommending it.

Swan Song is not perfect, it is clunky in parts and arguably overly long but I have now made my way through it twice (read through first time, listened to audiobook version second time) and have thoroughly enjoyed the journey both times. During the recent listen-through I headed over to McCammon's official website - - to find out a little more about the man behind the book and found on there commentary that backed up my own feelings; feelings that were so refreshingly honest (coming as they are in a world of self-aggrandisement) that I now like both the author and book even more for having read them. This is what I read on McCammon's biography page:

"Swan Song is perhaps McCammon's most controversial novel, though the controversy is not so much over the subject matter as it is in the novel's technique. Certainly the book is overlong and has some weakly drawn characterizations and a weakly portrayed romance. At the same time, it has an enormous number of characters whose actions are always interesting, much convincing detail, and great strokes of imagination. Furthermore, McCammon is able to depict something as mundane as the passing of a horse with great conviction, and the positive far outweighs the negative. Swan Song tied with Stephen King's Misery for the 1988 Bram Stoker Award for outstanding achievement in horror and dark fantasy and was the first of McCammon's books to be a New York Times best-seller."

And that, in a nutshell, says it all. In a book of over 850 pages I never once found myself bored, I progressed through the book at a steady pace, reading every day until it was finished. I looked forward to reading it each evening as I cared about the characters and was easily able to forgive the weaknesses (I think McCammon is being a little too hard on himself) as it was all just so damn enjoyable (I know that enjoyable may not be the right word to use when describing reading about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, maybe gripping would be more suitable). And the mention of Stephen King is also interesting as Swan Song reads very much like a novel he could of written himself and has certain parallels with The Stand. Here again is a snippet from the official McCammon site:

"Like Stephen King's The Stand (1978), its literary model, Swan Song follows the lives and actions of a diverse group of characters in a post-holocaust world. King used a super-flu to kill most of the world's population, but he left buildings and civic infrastructure intact, and apart from the emergent supernatural elements, most of the problems faced by his characters are logistical: corpses must be removed, electricity must be restarted, and civil order must be maintained. McCammon went several steps further and destroyed his world with a limited nuclear war, and his characters face plagues, devastation, radiation injuries and sicknesses, declining food and fuel rations, nuclear winters, and of course, each other."

I love both books and there is a good chance that others will too. If The Stand worked for you (review on this book coming soon) then the likelihood is the Swan Song will too. And vice-versa.

In Swan Song Robert McCammon hits with far greater frequency than he misses and the supernatural elements are expertly woven into what is, quite naturally, a rather oppressive story. So if you like post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction and/or like Stephen King or books of that ilk then please, please give Swan Song a read, you will not regret it. The book has also recently become available in both Kindle and audiobook format (very well read by Tom Stechschulte) and the latter became my friend and companion on my daily commute.

I found it impossible not to like Swan Song, even more so after discovering that the author was so open and honest, and I am delighted to feature it on Fantasy Book Review.

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30 positive reader review(s) for Swan Song


Swan Song reader reviews

from USA

Swan Song is one of there best books I have ever read. I have read hundreds. I could not put it down, I even read it at stop lights. Read it every spare minute I had and even snuck in reads at work.

from United States

Read this book for school and book club and I loved it. I really am not a fan of horror or dystopia or any stories of the sort yet i really did love this book. It pulls you in and gets you involved with each perspective and how the all come together. In book club, I heard from everyone that while it was a little explicit, it was a favorite of theirs as well and they loved the storyline. One person even said they loved the fact that it could lead to political discussions without fighting being involved and it leading to a debate. Overall, it really is a great book and now one of my favorites!

from Oman

I love this book, it's my first horror book and first book by Robert McCammon. I want to read more of his books.

from Ireland

I love this book, a fantastic writer.

from United States

Read this book many years ago... absolutely loved it!!! I wish they would make this into a movie.. can't understand why they never did.

from USA

Excellent. Best book I have ever read! And I have read hundreds.

from UK

Amazing book. I read it first in 1988 whilst on holiday and have probably read it half a dozen times since. Thankyou Robert for your imagination and skill.

from U.S.A

My fav book by far as far as fantasy goes. I disagree with the constant S. King comparisions. S. King is a boring writer and I had to make myself read or finish every book I ever started. R. Mac on the other hand tells a story where the time flies by due to the pacing and methods he uses. Mystery walk is great and Wolf's hour as well. Swan Song does have a few flaws but only after I have read it 10 times and 25 years have passed since I first read it as a teen.

from United States

Robert R. McCammon's book Swan Song spoils any other reading of a of a nuclear war aftermath you have or will ever read. You will be comparing the narrative of this book, once you read it, to any other as lacking in something. I could only wish the author take up the setting again, this time with new characters of dark fantasy...elves, trolls, nymphs, etc... and man. I believe he could out-write the "Shannara" series.

from USA

McCammon has written King under the table. Swan Song is evidence of it. While King babbles and can't get to the point for about 50 pages, McCammon stays with the point on every page. McCammon consistently moves the story forward at a fast pace and his Characters, especially in Swan Song, are well developed. What I loved best about Swan Song is the unpredictable plot as the story carries the reader through a world of Terrible Chaos. Unputdownable read. Kick-ass novel !

from UK

Easily the most entertaining book I have ever read. Miles better than Stephen kings The Stand. The epic story of Swan song moves along at a fast pace. McCammon writing style is that he is able to say more about a character in a paragraph than King could in 3 chapters. I have read this book about 10 times over the last 30 years and I know I will start reading it again very soon.

from USA

Best book I ever read. Made Stephen King's The Stand look like a walk in the park. This story grips from the get go. Read it five time and listened to the audio book three times. They really need to make a high quality movie out of this. I'm very surprised that the churches haven't done this yet.

from Canada

I would give it a 12 out of 10 if i could. If you could only read one book about the apocalypse this should be it. I have read every post apocalypse book I could get my hands on, old ones, new ones, kindle only ones. Nothing compares to Swan Song. The hardest part of reading Swan Song was the knowledge that there was no book to follow. But it didn't need one. Thank you Robert, it is the best book I ever read, and about every 5 years I pick it up ad read it again.... WHERE IS THE MOVIE ???

from England

Like many others, this is one of the best books I have ever read, I have recommended it to may people and all have loved it as well.

from United States

This book is so good I've read it four time's!

from Australia

If I could only read just one book for the rest of my life I would choose Swan Song, without a doubt. Which is no small feat considering how many books I've fallen in love with since I first started reading. There is just something so undeniably magical about McCammon's writing and storytelling ablility. This is a book that I would recommend EVERYONE read (even those who don't typically like the horror genre). You won't regret it 😁

from USA

One of my top favorite books of all time. Favorite horror book, for sure. Made my skin crawl. Very scary.

from USA

Fantastic book. You're right if you read King's The Stand you will find this, in my opinion, even better. It is long but never boring, and hard to put down once you start. I prefer hardback books so went to a book store years ago for them to try and order and was told never published that way and was disappointed until I found that there was a hardback edition on ebay. Yeah! I had to have it and won. It was well worth it. The more time that passes people are finding this book and how good it is. McCammon makes his characters real as you follow their attempts to survive, while others to control. Then there is Swan, a very special girl, and their attempts to find her and protect her from those who want her for the wrong reasons. Why? You need to read this book to find out! If you liked the Stand you will love this book!

from USA

I first read this book about 20 years ago after my sister read it. I never gave the book back and it is one of the very few books I've kept in physical copy (rest have transitioned to kindle or just donated). It is hands down my favorite book I've read. I'm sure I have re read the book about 10 times and enjoy reading over favorite portions of the book. It is a great, compelling read.

from Australia

One of the best books I have ever read.

from Kenya

Here is a vivid and scary narrative of a nuclear war aftermath

from United States

The characters are unique and vivid. I've never cared so much for fictional characters. Joshua, Sister, Swan, Paul, Leona, and Artie were such lovable characters. The best post apocalyptic book I have read, and I've read a ton.

from United states

First read this in 1987. Reread this in the new scheme of things in the world. It was scarier than ever. McCammon has a wonderful sense of people, the best and worst in us all. This should be made into a movie! Movies are the most graphic way to picture the story for those who no longer read for enjoyment and enlightenment. We really need to hear his message, more than once! Thank you, Robert MC Cammon!

from Arizona

Swan Song is the vest book I read in my life.

from New York/Florida

My favorite book. I've read it 6 times. Recommended it numerous times, to great approval. Should have been a movie or mini series already. Great characters ! Think I'll start turning the pages for a 7th time now. Love it! McCammon is so underrated.

from US

The first half of the first chapter was a bit fast moving to disaster, but then disasters rarely move at a snails pace because then there's time to react, ok, given as a logical point. I thought more description and more detail could have brought more clarity to the situation. I just plowed through the first chapter and then afterwards, when circumstance and the major players came into focus and the story line took on a more linear projection, it got more than interesting, it got downright riveting! I could NOT put down this book, do Not, Not, read this book before you have to sleep because you will end up staying up way longer than you decently should have! I can't believe no one ever made a movie of this book because the visions that McCammon puts into your head are astounding and sometimes beautiful. The range of emotions and critical thought are well balanced. Many books I read after that paled in comparison. This in the top ten of my favorite books of all time. I just purchased a new copy, because I keep giving them away, and I will have read it for the fourth time. I just made a deal with my grown up daughter, I will read "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen ugg, but she has to read Robert McCammon's " Swan Song". I know she'll thank me later!

from USA

Loved this book. Yes there are some weak points. Such as when Josh decides to proceed inside K-Mart even after he knows Alvin might be around. I could not stop, and yes I cried many times. Loved this book, this and the Stand - must reads.

from Indiana

Definitely my all time favorite book, for many years! It's captivating, and definitely a book I can't put down, no matter how many times I read it. Amazing story line, enthralling characters, and makes you feel like you are a part of the story not just a reader. You WILL run the full gamut of emotions with this one!

from New York

Swan Song is a story about the survivors of a nuclear holocaust that have to make sense and exist in this colorless new world they are left with. Here they must contend with fallout, plagues, famine, and each other. Some people cling to their humanity despite the hardships it brings, where others shed theirs like a second skin in favor of power and comfort. 'The Man With The Scarlet Eye', a very dark other worldly being, courts the less scrupulous survivors, bringing them closer to darkness and destruction, and crushes any who try to bring meaning and hope back to the world. Two such threats he finds at the hands of a bag lady named Sister and a child called Swan. Sister brings comfort with a magic piece of glass and Swan can bring life back to the land with a touch. Armies form as many wish to destroy them and many would lay down their lives for them. I first read this book back in 1988 and have read through it numerous times, worn through multiple copies, and gifted even more. To this day, if I were to pick up that book, I know that not long after I have begun turning pages I will have become invested in these wonderful characters again. A trained critic or seasoned author may find a few faults in technique here or there, but just as a reader, I found myself too busy enjoying the book to notice. McCammon doesn't pull punches with this gritty world he shows us, so if you still have a soul, you might need a dry handkerchief.

from Carlisle

This had to be my all time favourite book, I loved how the story gripped you from the beginning and that was it, my imagination took me on every journey and every character in the book! Sometimes I had to put it down as I'd got myself that scared but then had to pick it back up straight away to see what happened next. I loved it and I'm sure you will too!

10/10 from 31 reviews

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