At best, this book might get 3.5 stars from me.
I liked it well enough. And as a caveat, no, I haven't read The Stand, so this is not going to be a comparison. Yes, I'm aware that The Stand is the bees knees of PA lit, according to so many.
So back to Swan Song.
The book, basically is post WWIII. I grew up in the 80s. I know that the USSR is evil and that nuclear war could happen at any point, so I was a little happy with traveling in the Way Back machine to my childhood.
Anyway, for whatever reason, everything goes to hell. The Soviets nuke us, we nuke them back. This door-stop chronicles the adventures of a few special people in the Post-nuclear landscape. They are almost all tropes, and this book is not what one would call egalitarian (in the realm of racism and sexism, at least, there can't be class struggles when everyone is eking out a living). There's Swan, the special girl-child (the Tarot cards say so!) with the power of life that inspires the men to be manly men and protective. There's Josh, the large pro-wrestler who takes to Swan and protects her (you know, sensitive and manly). There's Sister [Creep], the formerly insane bag lady, who finds a special magical crown and sees Swan, knowing the child is special (while at the same time, being knocked sane
by a nuclear holocaust). There's Roland, the D&D playing nerd-boy who disappears into his own head-space of D&Dish land (he plays "the Knight"). There's Col Macklin, the PTSD Vietnam vet who is ruled by his "shadow soldier." And finally there's the evil devil-like dude who was never explained - Friend/The Man with the Scarlet Eye or whatever it is they want to call him.
It all comes down to everyone trying to survive. Macklin and Roland make an "army of excellence" that is going to rebuild America, after killing everyone with "Job's Mask" (in a very Hitlerian fashion, complete with swastika/Nazi uniforms). They find Swan's group and generally terrorize them, kidnap her to grow things for them and find "God" on Warwick mountain, who is really the President, ready to drop the final bombs to cleanse the earth of Evil.
Oh, and the Job's mask? It appears to be some sort of tumorous aftermath of radiation, but it's really more magic, reassembling one's face to make them as beautiful (or ugly) on the outside as they are inside. No. Really.
It was a bit of a mess of a novel. I mean, I love PA, I love the 80s, but damn. The characters were all very one note, very card-board cut out. Good was good, evil was evil (misguided or otherwise). There was a ton of exposition, so there was a lot of telling, instead of showing. Characters didn't show you their true colors, we spent time in their heads where they could tell you what they thought. There was the huge supernatural element with Swan creating growing things from dead things and Satan-ish running around. I like PA because you can contemplate how people would act in extreme circumstances (truly good or bad), and I'm just not a fan of the supernatural muddying the waters (people aren't really tested and/or showing true colors if Satan is running around mucking things up).
There were a lot of ludicrous things going on. There was a fully stocked and lit Kmart that the characters just hop on into without questioning. Radiation? What's that?! Apparently something that only kills in the immediate aftermath. People can eat/drink radioactive material and it's only harmful *while* they're eating it. There aren't any long term actual effects from the world going to crap, except for the two headed wolves and other silliness. Radiation/physics/fer-reals science was either grossly exaggerated to comic horror-movie proportions or just ignored completely.
I'm confused by the Satan-like character. He runs around being a ginormous asshole the whole time, making misery and horrible things happen (as Satan is supposed to do), and then toward the end it's somehow him trying to "save" mankind and be good to them by keeping their hopes down so they don't war again? So Satan is really a misguided good guy? No sense was made there.
I've mentioned before, the author was not free of the prejudices of sex and/or race, so there's some of that going on, which was made a bit worse by the narration.
So overall? eh? It was OK. It could have been better. McCammon is clearly a decent writer in that the prose was well done, but his story-telling left a lot to be desired.
As for the audio? I got used to the narrator, but he would not be one I would want to listen to again. He tried too hard to make everyone a stereotype. Women were squeely-types, Southerners had terrible drawls, Blacks had a jive-y sound to them, Northerners all came from Joisey, it made the little bit of racism/sexism I felt in the book feel stronger.