This is still my favorite McCammon novel. It takes a familiar Cold War subject -- the aftermath of a nuclear war, updated with the 1980s concept of a nuclear winter -- mixes it with a final battle good and evil a la The Stand by Stephen King, adds some fantasy and still comes up a winner.
I first read Swan Song soon after it came out in paperback in the late 1980s, when the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union seemed quite real.
It's worth noting that, if anything, this book minimizes the potential damage to the ecology of the planet in the event of an all-out nuclear war.
And I believe it overstates the ability of people to survive the initial exchange. I doubt there'd be as many survivors in the United States as this books' events assume. (Below the equator is another matter, but this book ignores the rest of the world.)
I also doubt the ability of the planet to go seven years without any functioning plant life. Perhaps the rest of the planet is not damaged as badly as the United States, but McCammon doesn't cover that. Perhaps enough algae survives in the oceans to maintain enough oxygen in the atmosphere for people to keep on breathing, but that's not explained either. I suspect that McCammon doesn't realize that without plant life on Earth, the atmosphere would quickly lose all its oxygen. Or he ignores it for the sake of having a story to tell.
This time around, I could easily see McCammon bringing out Swan's magical green thumb and her ability to get plants to grow. It's signaled from the very first chapter with her in it, and again by how grass grows under her while she and Josh the wrestler are in the fallout shelter.
However, the ashes of the dead man telling Josh to, "Protect the child" are still irritating to me. The magic is never really explained. And Josh is a good person (though a "bad" guy in the wrestling ring), and didn't need a supernatural reminder to protect a little girl. I think he would have done that quite well without the voice from the ashes,
This time around, I also found McCammon's anti-military theme more galling. Colonel Macklin is not really plausible. He was a pilot but went on to be a ground mercenary after his release as a POW? I find that implausible and unlikely.
And we see the beginning of the nuclear war from the viewpoint of the president of the United States, who's hoping to avoid the conflict but finally gives the order.
It's made to seem like his fault, but yet the Soviets are described as getting ready for war, to make a first strike. If the United States president hadn't ordered the attack on their submarines, perhaps the United States alone would have been the victim. I'm tired of stories that make it seem we're bad, when the other side causes the problem.
And the crown of jewelry from Tiffany's . . . I'm undecided about that one. It adds a lot of magic to the story. Was that even necessary? Sister could have dreamed about Swan for seven years. Or what if she hadn't, just run into her at Mary's Rest?
I'm also undecided about the very end. Swan saves the world from more nuclear destruction, but it's implausible, and not related to her main talent of growing plants.
Couldn't the people at Mary's Rest just beaten the Army and been done with it? If the author had given them a thousand more people and a few weeks instead of days to prepare, and he could have made it credible.
It's a tribue to the novel, however, that it works for over 900 pages despite all the nitpicking I could do with it.