Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a step away from the usual books of English or American origins to take a look at Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033
“A facinating tale of survival and humanity repeating its mistakes, but with strengths which are a double edged sword.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Well this was an interesting one to try and describe.
One of two eastern European paperbacks to be adapted into a popular video game series of late, Metro 2033 is a name unfortunately better known for its outings on screens. With both games having emphasised the bleakness of life on the Metro and extreme levels of immersion, they have been extremely successful. Many of these elements have been taken directly from the book’s themes, but how well does the source present them?
Set some time after the nuclear apocalypse ravaged the world, a small remnant of humanity lurks within the extensive metro network beneath Moscow. With a civilisation having built settlements in the surrounding metro stations, humanity has begun repeating its mistakes of the mid-1900s. Worst still, among this hotbed of mutated wildlife, political strife and scavenging for survival, something from the surface is relentlessly advancing upon those living underground. Something sentient which has destroyed almost every station it has come across…
The book’s single biggest strength is its more unconventional style and the way it is presented to its reader. It could either be due to the differences in style thanks to being translated from the original Russian or it could be intentional, but it presents the world in a very unique light. The very idea of a world which is without light, filled with death and creatures of mutated origin is presented in an almost surreal light. While there are points of familiarity which can be related to make the world seem a dark place, especially the rise of fascism among one faction, others can be less certain. Many story elements, especially surrounding the character Genghis Khan, are far less certain. Certain details seem like magic or more fantastical elements which sounds completely unreal, but cannot be fully denied. There are many moments where the protagonist Artyom sees things which seem completely unlike anything which should be in such a setting but feel fittingly in place none the less. It’s especially at the points where he might have started “hearing the tunnels” where such points come into play.
Oddly enough it’s because it’s harder to read and occasionally understand that the book feels much more weighty. It can be far harder to get through it and understand everything, but just for once that’s not bad here. It makes the protagonist’s journey feel more impactful and difficult, especially in the face of so many alien elements even he does not comprehend. You see few things beyond Artyom’s personal perspective and the focus remains with him the entire way through, leading to some elements being very mysterious and almost feeling underdeveloped. Unfortunately this is when the problems begin. While some elements work because of this and make the book feel strangely personal, others feel very withered and underused as a result. The plot surrounding the Dark Ones especially is a big point. We are told a great deal about them at the beginning, rarely see them at all, and the massive revelation at the end comes with very little build up. It’s not that well-handled and the execution of the twist behind them is just undercut by many elements begin stuffed in at seemingly the last second.
Many elements do feel like a double edged sword, especially in the writing style. While it permits for certain points and details to work extremely well, it lacks subtlety. This is especially clear in the minor moments which can really help to flesh out the strife of everyday life. Rather than fitting them in around events, or left in the background, they are always given full focus and explored via Antyom’s thoughts. This can be effective when it comes to some, such as his thoughts on the military grade bullets used for currency. Others meanwhile such as how humanity is forgetting the lessons of the past fail to be anywhere near as effective as they should have been. It certainly leave some of the more societal and human elements feeling very lacking. This isn’t helped by the characters, as the writing style fails to really impress upon the much depth. The lack of certain details does help to work with certain elements, but it doesn’t allow for much in the way of complex figures, compelling as they might be.
The writing style also does not lend itself well to any of the battles or even minor skirmishes. This isn’t due to humanity not being at the top of the food chain, or even the fact that Artyom spends more times running and trying to survive than actually fighting. It’s more to do with how well they are described, and the lack of really energy and descriptions of the environment. Both of which really fail to impress upon how desperate the situation really is and often feel like the weaker points of the tale. Also, and this is just a personal issue, Glukhovsky does have the problem of using ellipsis far too often, especially when it comes to characters possessed and near death. Really, it reaches Dark Age of Comics levels at times and isn’t used anywhere near as sparingly as it should.
While far from perfect and with more than its fair share of problems, Metro 2033 none the less does remain a compelling tale. It’s a novel which takes its subject matter in a very different direction from what you would expect and works in building up an effective world of death and ruin. It does so far more effectively than many of its contemporaries and for all its flaws is definitely a tale worth reading for anyone wanting to write about a post-apocalyptic setting. Read a few chapters to see if you like the style before buying, but definitely take a look at this one.