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.

Book Review – ‘Challenger Deep’ by Neal Shusterman

This book played with my brain…

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, magical realism

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.   

Page border by Casey Carlisle

On face value, I thought ‘Challenger Deep’ was about a psychological analogy between exploring the deep and discovering inner strength. And it is that, but you don’t get any real life adventure of the underwater world – it’s all in the protagonist’s head. And from a marine biologist aficionado, I felt a little duped.

From part way in, I found ‘Challenger Deep’ tedious to read, switching from realms and dreams – I wanted to be entertained, but didn’t get that. The narrative went all over the place and I found myself getting bored. In hindsight I understand there is a purpose to this style or narrative. The frequent tangents bulging with symbolism are meant to reflect Caden, (our protagonist) mental state, but for me it bogged down the pace and plot. It almost gave me a headache.

Neal Shusterman has done a marvellous job in describing the working mind of a person suffering mental illness, and can see where ‘Challenger Deep’ had received all of its accolades; but this just wasn’t the read for me.

I just have to mention there is a short paragraph on the topic of suicide (in the last quarter) that Caden inwardly muses upon, which I thought was excellent and poignant. This is by no means a horrible book, though, I would have liked to have seen it at least half as long; or have another aspect of the story introduced that isn’t touched by Caden’s illness. The only way I can describe my feelings over this book is that it was like peering through those glass bricks, where the view on the other side is warped and blurred to the point of bare recognition. Yes, that is the whole point of this novel, but I completed it with a sense of wanting more.

I may have rated it lower if not for such a spot on picture of a mentally ill person; and giving it a positive, uplifting spin. Ground-breaking really. But I guess in tackling such a topic, you fall into the danger zone of unrelatable characters – and that’s what happened to me.

Overall, I loved the message and depiction of a youngster in the grips of a manic episode, but if there was another aspect to this story which broke up all of the craziness and given me something to gain more of an outside perspective (and sub-plot). Sadly, I found myself not enjoying this book at all. It took a great deal of will power to finish it. And as a result would only recommend it to a more high-brow, critical reader.

Overall feeling: You really take a trip down the rabbit hole…

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.