Metro 2033: Life in the Dark

You know something? I’m worried I’m getting predictable. Too many fantasy books or mystery stories; it’s like eating the same two meals over and over for years. Sure, it has nutritional value – or intellectual value, in this case – but god damn, man, there’s a reason they call variety the spice of life!

So I did the only thing I could think of: I turned to a friend. Luckily for me, I’ve got a pal who reads plenty of interesting stuff. Most of it being long, dark, and depressing stories from Russia. But I wasn’t ready to dive into something that big yet, so I chose something a bit shorter and more accessible.

And it was still dark and depressing. I guess that’s just how Russian literature is. Makes sense. Russians have never struck me as the type to enjoy light-hearted fun.

I’m gonna start reviewing the book before I accidentally say something racist.

Nuclear war has made the surface world inhospitable towards humans. To survive, the people of Russia have sequestered themselves within the tunnels of their metro system. But even that meager life is threatened; mysterious and terrifying beings called the Dark Ones are appearing within the tunnels, driving those that come into contact with them to madness. To combat this, our protagonist, Artyom, is sent to deliver an important message. But can he survive in the madness within the dark places of the metro?

Metro 2033 is actually a fairly simple book. Each chapter basically boils down to Artyom going to a place, meeting people, having a misadventure, then carrying on, now a little step closer to the end goal. Looking at it like that, it’s your typical fantasy adventure!

Only this one has depressing themes of existentialism, insanity, people cursing at each other, nuclear mutants, and guns. Sorry, Bilbo. This ain’t that kind of adventure.

As our protagonist, Artyom is… alright. He doesn’t have much personality to him, but that’s kinda the point. At the beginning of the story, he’s like an unused sponge, unable to decide what he believes in or what he wants out of life. But as his journey through the Metro continues, as he soaks in the varying beliefs and problems of the people he meets, he grows to develop his own desires, goals, and set of beliefs. It’s an interesting take on the hero’s journey archetype.

One that comes to a brutally depressing end. Like, god damn dude, the last chapter of this book kicked me in the nuts, it was such a bummer. But, like, in a good way! It brings all the unique themes and plot threads of the book together into a neat little package, and the final few paragraphs are downright jaw-dropping!

Artyom’s journey is a wild one. Through him, we get to experience the full terror and insanity brewing within the tunnels. It ain’t all just pigs, mushrooms, and depression. Weird cults, fascists, psychotic weirdos, carnivorous rat hordes, it’s got it all!

This variety, however, is a double-edged sword. A good majority of the characters Artyom meets end up disappearing not long after. Most of them never come back. Once he leaves a station and all its eccentricities behind, we never get to go back, and the consequences of what happened there rarely go beyond a few scrapes, bruises, and lost items. The first half felt like walking through a revolving door. Thankfully, that issue is less prevalent in the second half.

A solid chunk of the book is spent with characters telling stories. Some of this is exposition, some of it is simply world-building. What’s so interesting about it is that it perfectly highlights how insane the denizens of the tunnels are gradually becoming, and just how mad the metro itself is; are these stories true, or are they made up? Do the characters genuinely believe it or not? It’s an interesting way to build the developing culture; for a book that takes place almost entirely within underground tunnels, there’s a lot of world building!

Does it drag on sometimes? Yes. But I’m a fantasy nerd. I’m used to it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Metro 2033. It’s quickly becoming a new addition to my list of favorites! It’s a dark and intriguing post apocalyptical adventure that kept me on edge the whole time.

That being said, I doubt I’ll be diving into any of the sequels anytime soon. This first one didn’t exactly leave off on a ‘see you next time’ kind of note. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to them another day.

Once I get out of the emotional pit this one left me in. Don’t mind me, I think I’ll just sulk down here for a while longer.

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