The shadow soldier, the king’s knight, Prince Alvin, Sister, Swan, “God,” and “Friend” … As far as creating a cast of memorable characters, McCammon nails it with this behemoth of a book. But when it comes to a solid through-line and interesting plot, this book sort of gets buried beneath the rubble of the nuclear explosions that started this post-apocalyptic mayhem.
Now I’m fully aware that I’m late to the party on this one, and raise my white flag when it comes to the fact that I’m reading a novel that may have lost part of its impact based on the political climate of when it was written. But then again, I’m reviewing a book I read in 2017, regardless of when it was written. But up front, my apologies to any who hold this book close to their heart, praising it as one of the best P-A novels ever written.
The story itself is quite simple: the Cold War escalates to the point that the bombs are dropped, destroying 99% of civilization and leaving behind the dregs of humanity and a few special individuals who are either gifted or put in place to protect the gifted. Of course, 80% of this novel is short scenes where we watch these characters like pieces on a chess board moving toward their eventual convergence.
Oh yeah, and it moves about as quickly as a game of chess.
Here’s the thing, the short scenes work. McCammon is one hell of a writer, and there are some strong character-driven moments and exciting (and horrific) scenes. I just never found the runway beneath all of the dressing that should have provided the momentum a novel of this size needs. After awhile, the glimpses into the lives of these characters felt trivialized by the fact that there wasn’t an overreaching goal or any immediacy to their actions. Or maybe the problem was that there was only one goal, to connect these characters, where we needed some sub-plots or smaller goals along the way? Add to it the fact that luck had more to do with some of the most important findings than character choices and it turned this novel from playing a game of chess into now WATCHING a game of chess which, for anyone who hasn’t done so, is not the most exciting thing to be doing with your time. Not a lot of Chess programs available, even on some of the remotest cable stations out there.
My other quip with this novel is that the biggest and baddest baddie felt like he belonged in a different book altogether. Those of you who have read this will probably understand what I mean. I think this book could have been strengthened by keeping it to just the humans involved in the aftermath of the disaster. For all his supernatural strengths and abilities, “Friend” never provided more than tantrums, and I felt he could have been pulled from the novel completely without interrupting any of the major points that were hit along the way.
Overall this was a book I enjoyed. I loved the little moments and the scenes within overarching scenes. McCammon’s prose, (once you get past the jarring character POV switches which happen mid-scene), is exceptional, it just didn’t work for me as an overall package. Still, a solid 3 stars and one I’m glad I picked up. After all, I do enjoy watching chess.