Book Review – ‘The Luminous Dead’ by Caitlin Starling

A claustrophobic sci-fi psychological thriller to bury them all.

Genre: Science Fiction, Psychological Thriller, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 415

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?

A phenomenal read, I was glued to the page from start to finish. I was a literal zombie trying to stay awake and read til the end because I could not put ‘The Luminous Dead’ down.  This was an outstanding novel that I want to recommend to all my friends. It’s been a long time since I have been both compelled and repelled at the same time when reading.

There is a creepy suffocating ambience that penetrates the story to have you feeling the little hairs on the back of your neck raise. In the last half especially I was squirming, pulling my feet from the floor and taking twenty second breaks to run around the room and shake the hee-bee-jee-bees from my limbs.

The only minute thing that held me back from giving this a perfect score was how the plot felt too long, and kept back-tracking on itself. It did add an air of desperation that enhanced to the reading experience, but left ‘The Luminous Dead’ feeling a snatch too long. Juxtaposing this was an incredible talent to keep the pacing from start to finish. It was carnage to me, each chapter left me wanting more. I am an instant fan of Caitlin Starling and eager to see what else she has written. Anyone who can keep me this engaged and creeped out at the same time is a 5 star author in my books.

The concept is out of this world too – exploring underground caves on alien planets (essentially in a space suit) with all manner of dangers to face, with a psychological thriller aspect – where do I sign. It was an easy add-to-cart for me. I most definitely was not disappointed.

Our protagonist, Gyre is a battler, she’s working hard to provide better opportunities for her life. Coming from nothing, she is not afraid to take risks for that life… and that’s how she ends up deep underground in treacherous territory, finding dead bodies and hiding from alien tunnellers that could either crush you to death as they make the tunnels collapse, or eat you for a morning snack. Gyre’s grit is amazing, yet soft and compassionate. We see her constantly measuring risk and reward with each new challenge.

Em is what I like to think of as a definition of ‘book smart.’ She has no qualms in chemically controlling Gyre to achieve her goals, is not chatty over the coms, treating Gyre much like a tool. It was in interesting journey to see Gyre’s influence (through need) in deconstructing Em’s clinical nature and become more than just a stoic, sparse voice over the com.

Lack of control, human connection, suffocation, creepy alien creature stalking you in the dark, and dealing with loss.

Enthusiastically recommend ‘The Luminous Dead’ to everyone.

Overall feeling: Outstanding!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Top 10 Standalones – Top 10 series

I thought I’d take a look back to recommend my top 10 standalones that I read in 2020, it’s a mixed bag but maybe you’ll find that new-to-you read!

I’ll Give You The Sun – yes this was released ages ago, and has been sitting on my shelf since, but in the past year I’ve been making a concerted effort to shrink my TBR and stop getting detracted by too many new shiny covers. This contemporary lived up to the hype I remember it getting when it first came out. Interesting characters and fantastic reveals that brought all the feels.

The Luminous Dead – On of the latest purchases, a sci-fi psychological thriller set in caves on a distant planet, the protagonist faces treacherous terrain, a controlling guide, alien nasties, and a few dead bodies. With a F/F romance to boot this was everything I needed and didn’t know it.

Famous Last Words – a contemporary mystery set in the Hollywood Hills. A young girl moves into a spanish estate that might be haunted, oh, and there might be a killer lurking about.

Highway Bodies – a zombie apocalypse that a diverse group of youngsters have to survive. Set in Australia, and a gem of a novel.

The Sky is Everywhere – Another contemporary romance from Jandy Nelson I let sit on my shelf for too long. Quirky characters painted with artistic flare.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue* – A historical rom-com as brother, sister and their best friend take a road trip across Europe and all sorts of hijinks ensue. This was a laugh riot. *Not a standalone, there are two more novels and a novella in this series, but I’m including it here because I’ve only read the debut.

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz has been a favorite of mine since I was in junior high. This tale is a crazy twist of futures that keep getting intertwined: one is a family man, the other is a killer clown.

Pet Semetary – A re-read of an old classic that never fails to entertain and send a shiver down your spine. Bringing back the dead, indian burial grounds and a spooky wendigo… it never gets old (but parts of the story haven’t aged well – it fun to see how writing has evolved in the last 30-40 years)

Reckoning – the only non-fiction title in this list. Magda Szubanski, Australia’s first lady of comedy takes a serious tone exploring her family history: a father who was an assassin, her dreams of becoming a tennis star and falling into acting… and discovering her own identity in a time when being in the spotlight was a dangerous thing.

Cold Fire – A re-read that I didn’t know was one. I owned this book in high school and has lost it in my travels across the continent. I bought another copy thinking it was a title I didn’t have in Dean Koontz’s back catalog…. and the whole time I was reading it though ‘this sounds familiar.’ Still it was a great story of possible aliens haunting a man’s past who has the uncanny ability to foretell certain peoples deaths and goes out of his was to prevent them.

The top 10 series I completed (or nearly completed) in 2020 are:

This Mortal Coil – a science fiction future where the world is ravaged by genetically modified viruses, body modifications, and advanced technology. Warring factions for control and freedom, super soldiers… this really shows where a STEM education could take us. My no.1 pick for the year.

Warm Bodies – I finally completed this epic series, though it slowly left it’s satirical roots and turned philosophical. But is was fun to get answers to how the zombie apocalypse came about, and what the future holds for R and the gang.

The Rook* – There are still more installments to come in this series*, but this is all that is published for now. A spy thriller with supernatural powers set in England with a sense of humor! This collection has a special place in my heart (the television adaptation did not do it justice.)

Midnight Sun* – I got around to what I thought was finishing off the series I started back in 2007, but since have heard there is the possibility of another two books to come!? Nontheless this was a fun return to the beginnings of the Twilight franchise and the story of Edward and Bella (if a little long-winded) but I managed to read it in two days.

Impossible Times trilogy – a collection of novellas that is very timey-wimey. Set in England this has an echo of Doctor Who and mixes in a heavy dose of time travel. Well-written and a blast to read.

Death Works trilogy – Aussie author Trent Jamieson pens a great collection of novels about a Pomp (think grim reaper) guiding souls to the afterlife and fighting all sorts of supernatural nasties… but it’s all handled like a well-oiled corporate office. Best in my backyard : Brisbane, a story very close to my heart.

Proxy – another sci-fi dystopia with a gay main character where the wealthy can get a proxy to stand in for their punishments. A fantastic tale of class structure, technology and rebellion.

Zeroes*- A group of supernatural teens – crooks come heroes that have to navigate their powers, face the consequences of their actions and face-off similarly powered foes. It has a fun twist on the superpower genre, I just have to read the concluding novel to complete the series.*

One Man Guy – a contemporary romance duology featuring a M/M couple as they come out, and navigate romantic rivals, clashes of culture and class structures.

Nil* – a science fiction portal trilogy about a supernatural island that pits teens against the elements and predatory animals, but they have a year to untangle the mystery and catch a portal home before they die. Just have to read the concluding novel for this series*, but so far it has been one heck of an adventure.