Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling



Title: The Luminous Dead

Author: Caitlyn Starling

Release date: April 2, 2019

I remember when I saw ‘The Luminous Dead’ on Netgalley. I had recently read ‘The Last Astronaut’ and when I saw the cover I was drawn to this, excited to read another similarly themed book (to a degree.)

Sadly, as with a number of books on Netgalley, this was unable to be requested, so I patiently waited until it was released and snagged it. It slowly made it’s way up my TBR as I watched more and more people rave about it. I watched as it was nominated for the Bram Stoker award for best first novel.

And then, there it was! Top of my TBR. I dove in (which if I was in the book would’ve been frowned upon) and truthfully, I struggled.

What I liked: ‘The Luminous Dead’ follows Gyre (which I still can’t figure out how to pronounce!) who has been selected to navigate a deep cave system. The book is set in the future, so Gyre has been surgically fused/infiltrated by the suit, which means it operates on a battery and eating is simply a function now, where she inserts a canister into the feeding port and voila, food in her belly.

At first there is little interaction between Gyre and the team that is watching over her from somewhere above. We soon find out her ‘team’ is simply one person – Em, and from there Starling begins a plot point of distrust and fear between our two characters. I enjoyed a lot of the back and forth between these two. At times, it borders on a romantic link, which continues throughout the rest of the book. 

The cave itself acts as a majestic character, one that is home to these mysterious grub-like creatures, referred only to as Tunnelers. Because of this, the cave isn’t a solid set piece, instead, it often changes which made for some great tension as well as breaking up some of the monotony that started to happen half-way through.

The ending was a thrill-a-second finale, which kept me up longer than I wanted to, but was necessary, as there was no way I was going to fall asleep not knowing what happened.

What I didn’t like: I’ve seen a lot of people mention how claustrophobic and dread-filled the story was, and honestly I personally didn’t find either of those feelings anywhere. I did find chapter upon chapter that just felt unnecessary. I think the constant back and forth between Em and Gyre and Gyre’s distrust and anger towards Em and some of the decisions she’d made previously (staying spoiler free – so that’s all I can say!) became tedious and slowed the progression down. If this had been a novella length read, I think for my reader’s brain it would’ve been superb, but instead this never once had me riveted until the very end.

Why you should buy it: This one is a great study on relationships and one thing Starling did phenomenally was to create a lot with a little. This is essentially a novel with three characters: Em, Gyre and the cave. Other characters pop up here and there regarding back story etc, but otherwise Starling crafted a dramatic/border-line romance piece set in an immense sprawling cave system. If that sounds like a book you’d like to read, get on it!


One thought on “Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

  1. Good review. What a coincidence, just yesterday I asked for this book for Christmas. I’m okay with a slow-paced book. I only hope (if I receive it for Xmas, I mean) the dread and claustrophobia come through.


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