Title: The Luminous Dead
Author: Caitlin Starling
Published by: Harper Voyager
Synopsis: 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? (Synopsis from Goodreads)
My Thoughts: I would describe this debut book by Caitlin Starling as Isolation Horror. It's pretty terrifying. Gyre is a caver, and she lives in a future society where money can be made going into caves and finding deposits of minerals for mining. Caving is a dangerous job though, only the young really sign up for it because it pays well, and even then they only do a couple of expeditions before they stop. Special suits have been invented to keep the Caver's safe-ish and able to be in the caves for weeks at a time. Gyre has her own reasons for faking credentials to get a mystery caving job, which changes her whole life.
I think Caitlin Starling came up with a really interesting premise and an enjoyable story. The book takes place almost entirely underground, in a cave that just seems to go on and on and on. Tons of rock are between Gyre and the sky. The setting was so atmospheric, dark, and TERRIFYING!! I wouldn't say that I'm claustrophobic, but reading The Luminous Dead convinced me that I would NEVER voluntarily go deep into a cave. I can't. I wouldn't stay sane.
Another part of the horror of The Luminous Dead is that Gyre is totally alone in this cave. She has a handler's voice in her helmet, her only form of human interaction. She comes to depend on this handler quite a lot, but she doesn't always trust her. Gyre is down in this cave for what feels like years, but I think was a couple weeks time, I'm not too sure. But being alone like that, with no other human interaction, is a unique kind of torture.
The more you start to find out about this cave and this expedition, the more suspicious it got. The longer Gyre was down there, things started to happen, scary things.
Caitlin Starling did a great job of showcasing that unique kind of horror. I really did feel uncomfortable reading some of it. Definitely on edge when it came to some sequences.
I will say that I think this book was a little too long. It got a little slow, a little bloated feeling. Gyre was like a person trapped in a maze. She'd circle through the same places over and over again. It worked in showcasing that hopelessness, but it got a little dull to read. I was wondering when it was ever going to wrap up.
I'm really glad that a map was included in the beginning of the book because I liked being able to see where Gyre was in relation to the cave.
I don't really know how I feel about the ending ending. There are some people that I just don't feel like should be forgiven that easily. It's so complicated. And there were a couple things that I wish had been wrapped up differently.
I definitely enjoyed The Luminous Dead and I'd recommend it for a unique horror read. I'm interested to see what Caitlin Starling does next.
BOOKCITEMENT LEVEL 3.5/5
Get Me Out of this Mother Frickin' Cave!!