Metro 2033 has become more popularly known internationally thanks to the success of the computer game, though the novel is novel entertainment in its own right. Combining elements of paranormal horror with real-world locations, it’s a dark saga with vivid action and well-realised varied settings. But for its charm (and I did essentially like the book) it is far from perfect. If you’re after a dark romp through a creepy apocalypse, you could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.
What Metro 2033 about
A young man named Artyom is one of a community of survivors sheltering in the Moscow Metro decades after a nuclear war made the world above uninhabitable. Constantly oppressed by the mysterious, evil Dark Ones, Artyom starts to get visions and an understanding that the lives of everyone underground depend on him crossing the hostile metro system. Glukhovsky clearly had bold designs on presenting the journey as a kind of Odyssey, in which every station presents a unique atmosphere with many unique characters. It generally works, with striking and memorable locations and characters that made it clear fodder for a computer game. But it’s major fault is that these descriptions often fall short. Learning about yet another different society at another metro station can become tiresome, making the book over-long, and with an unsatisfying pace.
This would be fine in a more casual tale, but Artyom’s journey is urgent. The author’s intense attention to detail detracts from the most successful aspect of the novel – the gradually revealed threat of the Dark Ones that lurk around Moscow. There are some brilliantly atmospheric passages concerning the attacks from these creatures, but they’re few and far between. A lot of half-baked philosophies are thrown around in between, giving the central story arch didn’t the stop-start juddering of the metro trains it mimics.
The book has also clearly suffered from translation. Either it was clumsily written to begin with, or it didn’t port correctly, but the clumsy unrealistic dialogue and excessive reliance on passive language makes for some very amateurish prose. Combine that with the uneven pace, and it makes for a fairly pedestrian tale.
So why read Metro 2033?
For it’s failings, the Dark Ones of Metro 2033 fill it with rich original detail and compelling action sequences. Arytom’s journey into the library, for instance, is an incredibly atmospheric and haunting section. If you can forgive the clumsy language and muscle through the over-long exposition of every metro station, such sequences are very arresting. And the colourful setting itself, the converted landscape of the Moscow underground, is superbly mapped out and depicted. Not that the author required huge leaps of imagination for that – there’s already something quite apocalyptic about Russia as it is.