A Writer Ascending: “The Luminous Dead” Review

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“She’d heard somewhere that pride came before the fall. But she wasn’t going to fall. She was going to climb.”

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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?


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Two book reviews in a row? I’m on a roll!

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I wasn’t planning on reviewing this book, but then I figured why not? I had the perfect quote picked out to use for a review. Might as well use it.

This book is pitched as The Martian meets Gravity meets Annihilation, and that comparison is apt. Gyre’s journey is a harrowing one and it’s not always clear what is real and what isn’t. It makes for a thrilling and anxiety-ridden read.

But it isn’t all fun and games. There were times I found it hard to stay invested and I can’t be sure if that’s because of the book itself or the fact that I read it on my Kindle. Maybe I just have a harder time adjusting to that format. But then again, I read another eBook recently that I had an enjoyable experience with. So perhaps the problem is Caitlin Starling’s debut.

My main issue with this novel is the repetitive and cyclical nature of Gyre and Em’s relationship. It switches back and forth between trust and distrust, liking and loathing, so much I almost got whiplash. Given different revelations, I understand why Gyre feels a certain way about Em in any given moment. I just wish Starling didn’t write it so mercurial.

Despite focusing on only two characters, I wouldn’t call this story a character study. In fact, there’s not much character to Gyre or Em. They’re driven solely by external motivations. Gyre wants to find her mother, who abandoned the family when Gyre was a little girl. Em is haunted by the deaths of her parents and is desperate for answers. Sure, they have other traits (Gyre is stubborn and Em is secretive), but nothing feels intrinsic to them. They are but a product of their pasts.

And that’s why, though the two do have some romantic tension, I don’t really ship them. I’m content with where they end up and don’t have a problem with their relationship, but I’m not invested in it. I mainly just like it because it’s F/F. We support messy lesbians in this house.

All that said, when I was invested in the story, I was very invested. I feared for Gyre’s life, wanting desperately for her to get out of the cave. In fact, I’ve found I kind of like stories about caving and spelunking (at least when they’re riddled with horror). I don’t plan on ever doing it myself, but I’ll gladly live vicariously through characters like Gyre.

The Luminous Dead is filled with tension and terror, the only book that could conceivably pull off being a slow-paced thriller. It’s not what I expected, but it’s good all the same. If you’re willing to embark on an adventure deep into the earth with nothing but two characters who communicate poorly, then pick up this book. It just may illuminate something deep within you.


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Body horror, death, suicide mention


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Have you read The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling? Share your thoughts in the comments!

One thought on “A Writer Ascending: “The Luminous Dead” Review

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