Review: The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling

I’m in a reading slump at the moment, so for F/F Friday I’ve decided to share with you my review of this book I read last year. It’s stayed with me ever since, and I’ve recommended it a couple times over the months, so I thought it’d be good to talk about it in a bit more detail.

I’ll probably also give the audiobook a try some time soon, because this is the kind of book that’s got to be amazing as audio!

The Story

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is not exactly the kind of books I usually read, but I was curious – I think it had been recommended at Worldcon last year for one reason or another, and it’s been on my list ever since. 

It’s not as horror as the blurb makes it sound, but it’s still out there. It reminded me of The Cave or The Descent, except not really. It’s a gripping read. The main character, Gyre,’s one link to the surface is unreliable. Perhaps Gyre herself is not reliable. Is she really seeing what she’s seeing, and what are the implications?  And in some ways you know the characters are emotionally or psychologically compromised, but there’s still the possibility that it’s all real. And of course, everything is from the point of view of Gyre, who is stuck in that cave in one dire circumstance or another. It felt claustrophobic at times, and hopeful at others, but it was, all along, a gripping and good read. The stakes were kept high throughout as well.

I could empathize with both characters quite a bit, and it was easy to feel for them both, although I think I was supposed to mistrust Em a lot more than I did. The two of them definitely had that “I hate you but you’re still hot” vibe from the start, and the dialogue was definitely entertaining!

I did not think, as I was reading, that any ending could really be satisfying, but it’s something the author managed to pull off!

The one drawback for me was the map, if I’m being honest. It helped, but it was also not reliable (3D things shown in 2D tend to do that) so it confused me more than it helped, at times. And yet it also did help me get a better idea of the expedition… Anyway, when the map’s all you can complain about, it’s definitely a good book! 

A year after having read it, I still find myself thinking about it again, occasionally. It’s one of those books that stays with you.

Barnes & Noble | Bookshop UK (affiliate link) | Portal Bookshop | Kenny’s | or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

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