Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky is best described as a surreal, post-apocalyptic adventure, centred around life beneath the ground in the metro tunnels after nuclear weapons devastated the planet with their destructive force and worse still, their lingering radiation. This is not a story of how or why the bombs dropped, but the exploration of one’s will to live in the face of many strange dangers that assault the body, mind and heart of the main character, Artyom.
Here is my spoiler-free review of Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
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A Short Summary
First, let me set the scene.
It’s been some decades since the bombs have dropped, few characters who are old enough still fondly remember what life was like before the remnants of humanity took shelter in the metro tunnels that ran beneath Moscow. Life in this new world is dark, depressing and tough, requiring many people to do horrible things for the sake of survival.
That’s not to say that civilisation is completely destroyed, as the stations have become miniature cities, some with bustling trade and others with strong military foundations. Yet, some have devolved into almost cult-like behaviour, violent political factions still exist, as do bandits and madmen. Not to mention the strange creatures and anomalies that have control over the surface and hide in some of the darkest tunnels.
Artyom, the protagonist in this novel, is given a mission to deliver a message from a mysterious, but inspiring man to another named Melnik in the station called Polis. It is a mission brought about by horrible visitations of twisted, humanoid creatures to his humble station, causing death and madness.
The story follows Artyom’s journey from station to station, from his encounters with the terrifying anomalies of the tunnels to the just as horrific confrontations with the factions and madmen I mentioned earlier.
As with most stories following a long journey, there are many characters to talk about, but as always, I will mention the ones you will get to know in the first stages of the book.
First, we have Artyom. Artyom is a character who develops a sense of duty when it comes to his mission. He understands the threat of the creatures which have visited his station and despite being no more than a simple worker at the station, sometimes helping chop mushrooms or stand guard, he decides to approach it with an air of importance.
Artyom is twenty-one years old, but growing up in the metro has forced him to experience many dark things, making him tough and even wise beyond his years. There are many philosophical moments that help add to his personality as the story goes on, but most of the lessons he learns come from the tense moments during the events of the story.
The second important character you will meet early in the story is Hunter. Hunter is a character who gives this mission to Artyom, despite having only just met. Artyom finds Hunter’s bravery in facing the tunnels and his too-stubborn-to-die attitude inspiring and quickly idolizes Hunter for these traits.
Thirdly, we have Sukhoi who not only raised Artyom, but also voices the emotion most feel living in the metro; hopelessness. Sukhoi, especially since the arrival of this new threat known as the ‘dark ones’, has felt the terrible funk of depression for a long time. Life never gets better and with that in mind, Sukhoi feels that the coming of the dark ones means the end of humanity.
Of course, this view also latches onto Artyom.
These are only the first two people Artyom meets, but these are not the only two views about the life he encounters. Characters who help and hinder all have their goals and views on how life is meant to be understood and lived, each one helping Artyom form his own opinion, as some will resonate with him more than others.
I found that the characters were written realistically enough in this world space. Even the extraordinary characters aren’t so over-the-top with their actions. Even those that are plagued with madness, either brought on by their way of living or some anomaly spawned from radiation, come off as believable.
On an early personal note, I feel that there are many elements of the story that are beyond belief, so I was constantly expecting some extraordinary character to come along. That never happened, as all characters, good or bad, felt a lot more down to earth than crazy characters I thought would appear. That being said, these kinds of characters can be just as impactful because of their believability, if not more so, as they are some familiar, making some scenes all the more dark and uncomfortable.
The writing style I found easy to follow and descriptive, perhaps a little too descriptive at times, but that’s just my preference. Of course, the story tackles many surreal moments, so writing like this works well; so I’m not really complaining.
If read seriously, one could finish the book in 3 to 4 days, but if read casually for short periods, it will take twice that time. Like most apocalyptic fiction, Metro 2033 includes several dark scenes, I would say it’s fine for readers 16 and older.
I would say that Dmitry does an excellent job of setting the scene and conveying actions and emotions. He won’t bog you down with unnecessary information in a tense moment and any action that transpires is easy to follow and picture.
Now, Metro 2033 is written by a Russian author, but is also translated into English by the same author. So, for those who are worried about the writer’s story being muddled in translation, don’t be.
My Thoughts on Metro 2033
I think it would be wrong for me to talk about Metro 2033 without having mentioned my first encounter with the story. The Metro series is more commonly known as a video game series, which I played a few years back. I knew that Metro was a book before and only not got around to reading them.
The book I found to be a lot more enjoyable form of medium for this story. The video game pumped up the action and downplayed the story to make it more entertaining in that medium, but as a novel, you get so much more. It’s not a story filled with gun-blazing action, but thrilling suspense and sometimes insightful discussions.
I think one of the elements of the story that I most admired is the rumour spreading and storytelling. With news only spreading by word of mouth, events and stories are constantly being altered and exaggerated, that by the time a small station on the other side hears the story, it might come off as completely silly and inaccurate.
Yet, the beauty of this element is that the contents of the tunnels are mysterious. Strange things always happen, strange creatures are often encountered, so the stories one hears might be more accurate than one thinks. It makes the prospect of going down these different tunnels all the more terrifying, as the doubt that comes with the stories easily leads one’s imagination to make sense of it. And, as any thriller writer knows, one’s imagination can always conjure up something scarier.
The character’s feel this fear and even I found myself always wondering what Artyom would encounter next. Whether it be an anomaly or human interaction, there is no telling how badly the situation can turn out.
Now, Metro 2033 is a fantastic example, at least in my mind, of post-apocalyptic fiction. It includes the various elements that make the sub-genre great. It has the struggle of humanity to survive, the daily threat of radiation poisoning and the strangeness of supernatural elements to make it all the more exciting.
If a combination of survivor struggles and surreal, supernatural situations sounds like your kind of book, then you will enjoy Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
Good day, goodnight and happy reading!