It's been a long time since I've stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading a book but that's exactly what's happened over the last few days while I read Swan Song by Robert McCammon. I'd downloaded a sample on my kindle and found myself engrossed in it, which should have been a sign that I would be unable to put it down at night.
This book focuses on several people who find themselves alive after a nuclear holocaust. As they're faced with the difficulties of surviving a years-long nuclear winter, their true selves emerge and they find themselves on either a good or evil side. Central to the good side is Swan, who is able to make things grow, and Sister, a former New York bag lady who finds a crystal ring. Focusing evil energies are a former Colonel and his protege and something fundamentally evil.
All of the main characters are very well-rounded and have depth to them. They feel like real people and the reader feels sympathetic to them even when they're being unlikable. Where the writing really works is in the way the situations are described. It's been a long time since I've felt so tense or worried or happy for characters in a book. I always wanted to find out what happened next and while I had an idea about where the story was going to go, the specifics were always a surprise.
The only area where I found the story was lacking was in the way that the characters were so unaffected by radiation. Radiation was definitely part of their lives and experience but they didn't get as sick as I would have expected given that they were out amongst the radioactive fallout. Other than this one small issue, I found the book pretty much flawless.
This book has been compared to Stephen King's The Stand and the two books are definitely similar. Both have a battle between good and evil after some kind of disaster that wiped out most of civilization. The Stand is still one of my favourite books but I have to say that Swan Song is a better read. The Stand is in need of some ruthless cutting as the story is much too long and has a tendency to drag in places while Swan Song is tightly written with no extra bits and nothing missing. If you're a fan of The Stand, you'll love Swan Song and if you've been avoiding The Stand because of its length, definitely give Swan Song a read.