Review #230 // The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead

Desperate to get off planet, Gyre decides to fake climbing credentials to qualify for a job that would cover everything. When she gets on location though, she realizes that the climb isn’t exactly what she signed up for.

Why this book?: I love sci-fi horror, and this one came highly recommend by a few friends. I was also doing a weekend buddy read with a few friends (Owl, thank you for making me read this book).

I was reading this book right before school cracked down on finals and loading on an impossible amount of work, so when I put it down, I knew that I had to get back to it ASAP….then two months went by, and my friend Owl convinced me to read it with them over the weekend. They had already read it, so it would mostly be me sending my reactions to them, but I was excited to finally get back to this book, as I had heard so many amazing things.

It was a little slow at first–Gyre is climbing down, and you get to know a little of her backstory and why she’s doing this. You don’t get to know much about her surface team, other then the fact that, instead of a ‘team’, she got a one-woman show–Em. Em shocks her early on by using drugs and other ways to manipulate Gyre, and this plays heavily into the idea of manipulation and consent very early on. Gyre begins to question what else Em might be hiding from her, and takes actions to document what is going on around her. Slowly but surely, Em reveals more and more about the expedition to Gyre, and it once again makes the reader question a lot about this story–motivations, consent, selfishness, and what’s ‘worth it’.

This book also introduces the idea of having an unreliable narrator, but it twists it so amazingly well so you don’t even know if anything about the story is reliable. You have Em and her manipulative actions, you have the question on if anything (or anyone) in the environment might be manipulating Gyre, and you have Gyre questioning everything from Em and the environment to herself. The story is still wildly enjoyable though–I got so invested in Gyre’s mission and on her getting out alive after so many twists and turns–it was terrifying both from the unreliable narration, as well as the chance that she could literally die from real-life environmental impacts. Probably the most terrifying aspect was that not everything can be explained away with one thing or another.

Last but not least–the last half of this book was so fast paced and terrifying. I’m pretty sure I read a good chunk of this book in one sitting. I needed to know what would happen, and how this book would end. And that ending. What the actual fuck was that ending. I still think about it, and I read the book like two weeks ago. I’m still thinking about it, trying to figure out what happened, what the most logical solution that fits the facts is…but the fact remains that I just can’t explain it, and I love it so much.

Final Rating: ★★★★★


I’ll be blunt and say this book is a complete mind-fuck. I kept reading hoping for answers, and even though I didn’t get any, I loved it. Normally I’m all about having questions answered that makes things make sense, therefore allowing you to realize how screwed up something is. Instead, this one just….just left you hanging with so much evidence and so many questions but no answer that fully explains what actually happened.

Would I Recommend?

Yes, especially if you’re looking for an amazing book with unreliable narration. I will say that this book probably isn’t the best for those who don’t want to read something with body horror, near death experiences, and more, which I’ll say in the TWs. But if you want some amazing sci-fi/horror, this is definitely the book for you.

TW for body horror, near-death experiences, non-consensual use of medical drugs, accidental death, visual manipulation, detailed description of gore/injuries/corpses. (I probably missed some so if you know any more that I missed please let me know!!)

The Luminous DeadAdditional Information:

Published: April 2nd, 2019

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Page Count: 432

Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Synopsis: via Goodreads

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?

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