|“||It's a real book; as if the author saw everything with his own eyes. Uncompromising. Harsh, even cruel. Smart, subtle, poetic. Bold, breaking patterns. I read and I couldn't stop, eat or sleep. Today it's my favourite novel from the entire Universe.||„|
— Dmitry Glukhovsky
The Roots of Heaven (Italian: Le radici del cielo) is a novel that is part of the Universe of Metro 2033, a long-running series of short stories, novellas and novels written by different authors, all set in the world of Metro. The Roots of Heaven, written by Italian author Tullio Avoledo, was originally published in November of 2011. In fashion with the previous publications within the Universe series, the book was also released in Russia in March of 2012 (translated into Russian by Izabella Levina and Yevgeniya Litvin). There is currently no English version, but The Roots of Heaven has been translated into a number of other European languages. The novel was translated into Polish by Piotr Drzymała, whilst Balázs Matolcsi worked on the Hungarian translation.
In many ways this book stands out from most other works of the series, as it's set outside of Russia and was created by an Italian writer. The Roots of Heaven has been advertised as an uncompromising, tough, even cruel tale - yet also intelligent, delicate, and poetic. It approaches the canon boldly and has often been described by Dmitry Glukhovsky as his favourite novel in the Universe of Metro 2033 series. It was the first piece of Metro written fiction to mention a nuclear winter. Another thing that makes it even more unusual for the series is the first-person narrative writing style, as well as an overwhelming amount of spiritual and psychological themes.
The novel has a direct sequel titled "La crociata dei bambini" (The Children's Crusade), released only in Italy and Russia thus far.
Set in post-apocalyptic Italy, the action of the story begins in the Catacombs of Callixtus, one of the Catacombs of Rome, where the remnants of Catholic authority are led by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Ferdinando Albani, the last surviving member of the College of Cardinals. The last pope has died years before, after the nuclear war destroyed Rome and the rest of the world. His identity is unknown: as the nuclear war broke out during the summer of 2013 we may think that Pope Francis had already been elected by that time; anyway, as the novel was published in 2011, it's reasonable that Benedict XVI was thought to be still in charge as pope. From the "New Vatican" an expedition sets off to find the Patriarch of Venice, who seems to be the only known candidate for the next papacy. According to rumors, he is imprisoned in the north of Italy and the path eventually leads to Venice. The priest entrusted with seeking out the Patriarch, an American man named John Daniels, is placed under the protection of seven soldiers of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
The deadly surface of the planet makes his mission a perilous one. The way to Venice is blood-stained, full of pain, and madness. The ambiguous behavior of Father Daniels' escort makes him feel uncertain about the true objective of the expedition, whilst the horrors he experiences along the way make him doubt the point of the Church's mission. The dreadful scenes described in The Roots of Heaven belong to some of (if not the) most cruel and gruesome stories of the entire Metro Series. On this turbulent path, John Daniels begins to question his companions, his church, his faith, and himself. In addition to renowned cities like Rome and Venice, this novel also features other places: Urbino, Rimini, Santarcangelo di Romagna, Torrita Tiberina, and Ravenna.
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In the story, most of Rome's surviving population took refuge in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. The catacombs are shared by two factions. The City Council, led by the mafia-like Mori Family, and the New Vatican, led by Cardinal Camerlengo Ferdinando Albani. The City Council and the Mori Family are gaining influence in the catacombs because the New Vatican has no official leader. The last Pope was killed at the beginning of the Cataclysm, and the Church has been left in a state of Sede vacante, Rome without a Pope. The new Pope could not be elected, since Cardinal Albani was the only cardinal left in the Vatican, and therefore could not call a conclave to elect a new pope. However, after receiving information that another surviving cardinal who could help lead the Catholic Church is being held captive in Venice, Albani asks Father John Daniels to participate in an expedition to Venice and deliver this cardinal to Rome. John joins a detachment of Swiss guards, under the leadership of Captain Durand, and sets off on a journey through snowy Italy.
At first, the Swiss guards put Daniels to the test, unexpectedly throwing him into a pit with mutants, whom he, according to their plan, should overcome and thereby show that he is ready to take someone else's life in order to protect his own. John unexpectedly succeeds the test, killing the mutants and is welcomed into the detachment. Then the detachment almost becomes the target of another deadly mutant, a Muscle. The team continues on foot to the garage and from there, on snowmobiles, sets off on a further journey. They make a stop at the former EUR metro station Fermi, to pick up a suitcase from a stranger to John, and then travel to Aurelius station. There, the protagonist meets a new members of their team, Dr. Adele Lombard. While the characters are staying at Aurelius station, Daniels gradually realizes that the station’s population survives by eating their own children, who are all born mutants without exception, and that he was treated with the flesh from the son of a local deacon. Meanwhile, the deacon’s wife, confessing to John, decides to sacrifice the station for the crimes of its inhabitants and disables the generator, without which the shelter is unsuitable for life. For this reason, the guards kill all the inhabitants of the station with the idea of depriving them of their suffering, and then with Adele, leave the uninhabited refuge on two SUVs.
While leaving the outskirts of Rome, the detachment is attacked by mutants but suffer no losses. To wait out the morning, the team stops at the aqueduct tower owned by the Swiss guards. Daniels sees on the walls inside the tower an image of the “modern version of the god Mithra”, and then he becomes convinced that Durand, along the other members of his team, profess this pagan religion. Durand says that although he serves the Catholic Church, he is not part of it. Continuing their journey, the team leaves on the A1 motorway. Further along the road, the detachment discover the corpse of a girl who was brutally raped. Durand promises to exact justice on the one who did this. The Guardsmen discovers fresh tracks of huge wheels in the snow and decide to follow these tracks. Having visited the nearest well-known settlement of Torrita Tiberina and stopped at it during the daytime, the detachment discovers that all the inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared. Eventually, the heroes have to fight off mutants, mentally affecting people; they also show the heroes the location of the inhabitants of Torrita Tiberina. In the local church, the heroes discover the corpses of all the residents. Adele concludes that they all sacrificed themselves by committing ritual killings of each other. On the further path, the team encounters mutants similar to humans, which appear non-aggressive. However, on the contrary, they seem to be asking for help. When Durand kills one of them, John violently protests.
The next settlement in which the heroes stop for the day is the city of Urbino, which they had previously not visited. It is a fortified settlement in which guardsmen, in exchange for shelter from sunlight, temporarily have to leave their SUV's and almost all weapons to local residents. Heroes get acquainted with the head of the settlement, the Duke, who is obsessed with collecting mutants. The Duke shows his guests his museum, which contains embalmed parts of mutants, including people with disabilities, and then leads to the main treasure, an intelligent giant worm with human limbs, which John nicknames Gregor Samsa, the main character of Franz Kafka's story “Transformation”. The Duke, amusing himself, torments this mutant. A shocked Daniel falls to his knees and begins to pray for the worm, which leads to aggression from the Duke and his servant. However, Gregor prevents the servants club from hitting the head of John, and in the confusion Gregor kill the guard. Freed by the guardsmen, Gregor leads the heroes out and warns them of the coming “Man of Pain”. However, Gregor, who enters the courtyard first, dies from a gunshots, and the “Man of Pain”, captures John, the duke, and the remaining guardsmen.
John regains consciousness bound. He finds himself, together with the guardsmen, a captive of the “Man of Pain”, a crazed giant named David Gottschalk. Gottschalk is the leader of a cult which professes a perverted warlike form of Christianity, while waging a crusade against heretics and the Night Creatures (intelligent mutants like Gregor and the mutants of Torrita Tiberina). Gottschalk leads the “Greatest and Fastest Church of God on Wheels”, a huge dump truck with its own fighters and servants, powered by methane. Upon learning that the captives are representatives of the Vatican, Gottschalk unties them and returns their weapons, but doesn't let them go. The giant promises the team that he will deliver them to Venice. However, the guards see by compass that the truck is not taking them towards Venice, and they discuss what is happening in secret, not suspecting that they are being eavesdropped. Durand concludes that it was Gottschalk who was involved in the murder of the inhabitants of Torrita Tiberina. Soon Gottschalk confirms that they are not going to Venice: the giant in an ultimatum manner, taking Adele hostage, demands that the guards first take part in one of his missions, the capture of the fortress in Rimini, where, according to Gottschalk, atheists reign supreme. The heroes have no choice but to obey. With losses, the detachment defeats the defenders of the fortress and discovers a small group of women and children in the fortress, which the defenders sre protecting. Gottschalk announces that these inhabitants now belong to him and his church, and appoints the Purification Holiday the next night. Gottschalk also informs Durand that he is aware of their suspicions and disarms the heroes, taking them prisoner.
The center of the Festival of Purification becomes a pile of combustible material, in which the corpses of the dead inhabitants of Rimini were buried on the eve. Guards and John, lead by guards, watch the festival along with spectators from among Gottschalk's minions. To music, Gottschalk performs on this heap a sacrifice of the Duke of Urbino and, to the horror of Durand, Adele. After the duke and Adele, tied to a heap, are murdered by Gottschalk, hordes of flying mutants suddenly tear down on people, who tear the claws of everyone except John, the Swiss guardsmen and Gottschalk. Taking advantage of the turmoil, the heroes break free from the guards, and Duran pursues Gottschalk, who runs away to his truck. When overtaking the antagonist, Duran almost kills him, but one of the mutants, mentally affecting Durand, stops him, explaining to him that "we have something different for him." Gottschalk escapes in his truck, and when everyone else, except John and the guards, is dead, the mutants leave the area.
Since the main characters were forced to stay in an open area without protection for a considerable time, they have already gained large doses of radiation and feel accordingly. The guards, among whom only three remained alive during the entire journey, collect one of the two SUV's that were captured by Gottschalk and set off in pursuit of him. Duran wants to avenge Adele's death. For several days, the guardsmen and John, already experiencing radiation sickness, follow the large tracks of the large truck until they finally catch up near Venice. The truck is out of fuel; Gottschalk is nowhere to be found, leaving only the corpses of his associates. But the guardsmen are happy to find their metal chest, as well as a briefcase “with activation codes”, with which, according to Durand, they will be able to “complete their mission.” The guardsmen disarm Daniels with Durand claiming that John's and their missions are not identical to each other; who then knock out the priest and imprison him in a separate room.
Throughout the journey, Daniels often experiences strange visions and dreams of talking to strangers, including a women named Alessia. Now, after the guardsmen put him to sleep, he again sees Alessia, who helps him escape and leads him to Venice. Alessia shows him how and where the inhabitants of Venice now live. She leads Daniels through the living quarters, a network of large cisterns in which the ancient inhabitants of Venice stored water. Then John takes part in a celebration in his honor, where many residents are present. Alessia confirms that the Patriarch, whom John wants to meet, exists, and says that she will take Daniels to him. In the end, John hears the voice of the Patriarch, urging him to meet on the city-island cemetery of San Michele, and then finds himself in the middle of the lifeless city of Venice. He then realizes that he only imagined the inhabitants of the city, including Alessia, and that in fact he came here alone.
Exhausted John still goes to the island of San Michele to complete his mission. However, he is discovered by a wounded and exhausted Gottschalk, who wants to use him to get to the New Vatican to continue his crusade against heretics and night creatures. The Swiss guards arrive and start shooing at both of them, knowing that one of them is Gottschalk, but not knowing that the other is John. Gottschalk manages to escape, and John is shot, recognized, overtaken, and brought to a shelter, where he is fed and treated for his wound. Durand tells Daniels that the main task of their mission to the Vatican was to not deliver the patriarch of Venice, but to destroy him and the city of ghosts as well as bring back the treasures of San Marco to the Mori family to gain favors with both factions. Durand also reveal's that they only need the priest as an extra pair of hands that will help transfer the treasures. Soon with the help of the patriarch and Alessia, John escapes from the supervision of the guards and arrives at the island of San Michele.
On the island, the priest meets with the Patriarch, who turns out to be a mutant night creature, governs Venice and protects its inhabitants. He reveals to Daniels that he had been watching over him throughout his journey that he is the cause of his dreams and visions, including Alessia and other spirits of Venice. The Patriarch demonstrates his abilities through the assassination and spiritual purification of Gottschalk, who had reached the island earlier. The patriarch says that in fact Albani wants to destroy him in order to remove his rival out of the way, and for this purpose the guards brought a nuclear bomb to eliminate him. The guardsmen catch up with Daniels after defeating a revived Gottschalk, but the Patriarch, with the help of his abilities, detains them so that Daniels can leave and defuse the bomb. Durand overtakes John and tries to kill him, but the Patriarch and Alessia eliminate Durand themselves, while the rest of the guards die in a battle with the animated corpses sent by the Patriarch.
In the epilogue, John Daniels sets out on foot, intending to deliver the bomb back to Rome and confront Albani.