The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling

the luminous dead
three stars black

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 352
Release Date: April 2, 2019

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, her control giving way to paranoia and anger, Gyre severs her connection with Em and the outside world. 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 Luminous Dead is an atmospheric novel that follows two women as they dive deep into the earth and even deeper into their own psyches.

I love these types of novels, exploring unexplored lands/planets. So, I requested this one immediately after reading its synopsis. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy The Luminous Dead as much as I wanted. The comparison to The Martian and Annihilation are apt, though The Luminous Dead is missing that spark and it factor that make those novels memorable.

The atmosphere throughout the novel is creepy with an unrelenting sense of dread. Starling excels flawlessly with this aspect of the novel. From the beginning of the novel until the end, it feels as if there’s a weight slowly settling on your chest as you explore the cave with the characters and discover the many unsettling decisions that led to the characters’ current situation.

The synopsis paints The Luminous Dead as a very different novel than the one you get. Instead of a horror science fiction novel, readers get a creepy character driven story. The best way to describe the novel would be to compare it to the television The Walking Dead. The apocalypse and zombies are the catalyst to the character driven story as opposed to exploring the cause of apocalypse and zombies. The Luminous Dead functions in the same way. The exploration of the cave is the catalyst for the story being told about the two women. So, the world building is not expanded upon or explored since the story is ultimately about these two women and their journey.

My three star rating mostly reflects my disappointment with what the synopsis paints versus what I ultimately got from the novel. I wish Starling had focused a little more on the world building and given more context as opposed to focusing solely on the two of them.

Overall, despite my more negative review The Luminous Dead is definitely worth reading for Starling’s excellent atmospheric writing and character development.

** I was provided an ARC via Edelweiss for an honest review.


Have you read The Luminous Dead? What did you think?

4 thoughts on “The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling

  1. I’m really sad to see so many low ratings for this book, I had high hopes. I’ve got a NetGalley copy to read this month as well, so I’m curious to see how it works for me.

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