Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling | Book Review

Today Cat recommends THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlin Starling. It's full of claustrophobic creepiness. Have you read it?

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

"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?”

Amazon | Goodreads 

Cat's Review

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi horror, but when I do, I’m often blown away. The Luminous Dead was no different, and yet while I acknowledge the obvious writing ability of Starling, whose debut was this ambitious title, I couldn’t quite love it as much as I wanted to. Gyre has her reasons for lying to get herself on a high-paying caving expedition, but she discovers her surface team – those responsible for monitoring her progress – is only one woman, and so she begins to question everything she knows about the job. Honing in on the psychological effects of isolation and the stress of being trapped underground, it ticked many of the boxes I have about slow burning horror. It was great in how Gyre’s mental state deteriorated over the course of the book, as well as the complex relationship between her and her employer. Gyre and Em were the only two characters here, their interactions through voice comms. This created an unequal dynamic, where one person had more power over the other, and the second was wholly dependent, but despite the loose “romance” aspect born under unhealthy circumstances, I still wanted those kids to get together. It might just be I don’t read enough books where F/F relationships are present, and that’s on me.

Due to the setting being static and removed from the outside world, details on the alien planet and the state of the universe were pretty sparse. Instead it was comprised of claustrophobic darkness, the journey long and uneventful most of the time, with a tremendous amount of effort put into the specifics of caving. Gyre’s body being integrated to her suit was one of the elements that made me squirm, but it was brilliant, as was the intensity of her struggle in later parts. My biggest complaint is how long it took to get there; I reached the half way point, that being around two hundred pages, and had to keep myself from putting it down permanently. In hindsight I’d admit it was a good thing I didn’t – it’s not often I read something with over four hundred pages and only two characters. That in itself was memorable.

In conclusion: Taking place on the planet of Cassandra-V, The Luminous Dead accompanied Gyre as she descended into an unfamiliar cave system under the employ of a mysterious woman. It went hard on caving info, with the bulk of it focused on Gyre’s mental health as she attempted to complete the mission. There was bloat, my enjoyment reaching highs and lows, and I believe it could’ve benefitted from being tightened up a bit. Still, Starling’s prose transported me into the dark along with Gyre, witnessing the far-away rumble of a Tunneler.

Thank you for joining us today! Please share your thoughts about THE LUMINOUS DEAD as well as any recent reads in the comments below.

We are currently accepting horror fiction and horror adjacent fiction written by diverse authors in print and epub format ONLY. If this is you, please visit our review submission page here.

Cat is a contributing reviewer. Find her online at Twitter as @ResiRedGames.

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