When Robert McCammom wrote this back in the mid 80’s (it was published in 1987) he was already an established author specialising in writing horror stories that nodded towards the corruption of power. More than once he’d pitted angelic good against devilish evil.
Of course, back in the 1980’s the biggest fear everyone harboured was world war three. The war that would unleash nuclear fury to destroy the world. McCammom took this fear and married it to his already successful themes of demonic evil and magical good to create this epic tale.
After the bombs hit on July 17th the few survivors surface and try to scratch their existence. Not because they want to so much as because their human nature won’t let them just lay down and die. The first half of the book introduces us to hate-filled supernatural being overjoyed at the destruction of the world. Sister, an ex mad bag lady who finds herself on Fifth Avenue where she picks up a huge chunk of melted glass that enclosed huge jewels as it hardened, only realising later that the glass somehow has magical properties. Swan, a child who’s stripper mother has just left her abusive boyfriend, tearing Swan away from the only joy she knows, gardening.
Through the nine hundred odd pages (or over 33 hours if you listen to it on audiobook as I did) you follow these three and a host of supporting characters through their journey through the long nuclear winter. When they meet in front of ‘God’ a final showdown between good and evil will decide whether the world will be washed clean by another disaster or allowed to live.
What Robert McCammom does really well is to create believable characters that you care about. Although on the surface this seems to be about good versus evil he shows the negatives of his good characters and positives of his bad characters. He shows you what motivates them. This skill supports the reader through their long long read!
He also lays enough hints at what might happen to keep you curious, what is this ‘evolution of humankind’ spoken about? How come seeds sprouted where Swan slept? And why is Sisters glass leading her to Swan?
However, there are a few things that I did not like about the book. The beginning was all wrong and almost lost me, I knew the nuclear war was going to happen so spending time watching the President prevaricate about it seemed wasted. As it happens that thread is returned to much later in the story so it was necessary, but I still think the start of the book should have focussed on Swan or Sister. It would have made the president’s dilemma more tense if the reader already cared about some of the characters.
It is overlong, with some sharp editing the book could have been cut down by at least a quarter without losing much of importance. His writing is often overly descriptive too. He is particularly fond of metaphors and although some were good a lot were a little cliched.
I wouldn’t rush out to buy more of his books in a desperate hurry but I may well read him again in the future, I’d like to try something a bit more recent from him next time though to see if his writing has improved and his message become stronger.