Monday, May 27, 2019

Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Harper Voyager
Publication: April 2nd, 2019
Paperback. 352 pages.

About The Luminous Dead:

"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?"

I started reading this on a plane ride and I honestly couldn't have picked a better book to keep me occupied. The Luminous Dead is basically everything I hoped it'd be and more--and I'm pretty sure this is Starling's debut novel, so I have high hopes for her future work!

We start off following Gyre as she embarks on a caving expedition in a relatively unexplored cave on a foreign planet for reasons largely unknown to her. All she knows is that the company was willing to pay her a lot of money to do it and she is willing to take the risk for the payout. Problems begin when Gyre discovers that the rest of her "team" consists solely of a woman named Em who proceeds to keep her largely in the dark in regards to her purpose for this task and why there is only one person monitoring her exploration in a high stakes environment.

The Luminous Dead is the perfect atmospheric, thrilling, and high stakes type of story that I love. It's all about survival and exploring a new place just as much as it is an exploration of the two main character's (well, only characters, really) own personal struggles and past issues that have led them to the place they are in the present narrative of the book.

The world-building is both vast and minimal at the same time. We only visit one main location throughout the story, but there are still some descriptions of what the rest of the world looks like as well. It sounds as though people now inhabit a variety of different foreign planets, some full of greenery and a welcoming environment, while others are not as friendly and are used largely for mining and other resources--which also provides dangerous jobs for those such as Gyre who are in the position of wanting to make large amounts of money while still young. I would have loved to learn more about this world and how it works. It wasn't necessary for this particular story, but my general curiosity made me interesting to hear more about the different planets and lifestyles that exist.

This book might technically take place in only one central location with only two characters conversing throughout, but so much happened that it's easy to forget how singular the setting is. I was only a hundred pages in when so much had already happened that I was already wondering what else could happen for another two hundred or so pages, yet somehow Starling continued to throw in twists and unexpected excursions to keep everything running ahead at full speed. Amidst the high-stakes and adrenaline-fueled nature of this book are some slower moments of self-reflection or seemingly mundane scenes of Gyre performing checks on her suit and supply stores, but I found these really enjoyable and thought they added both realism and great character development to the story. These were the moments when we really got to know Gyre and understand her motivations for her actions.

Speaking of Gyre, I found her to be a really tough and impressive character. She's the sort of person who won't take any placating or nonsense from anyone and won't roll over to do just anyone's bidding. She's determined, but she's also smart and not afraid to take care of herself and focus on her own safety. I didn't always like the decisions Gyre made, but I also could never blame her one bit for the decisions she did make and I love how Starling crafted her character in such a rational and compelling manner. I can't say too much about Em because much of her character and story are unveiled as the story progresses in an vital order, but suffice to say she was also an interesting character that required a lot more effort to like than Gyre, but who had plenty of her own compelling aspects as well. Gyre and Em’s relationship was a tenuous one at best and was crafted with great care that made it feel organic in its growth--despite the strained and rather, well, forced manner in which it was created.

So much had happened at only a hundred pages in that i was already wondering--what else could possibly happen!? Yet somehow Starling continued to throw in twists and unexpected excursions to keep everything running at full speed. Amidst the high-stakes nature of this book are some slower moments of self-reflection or seemingly mundane scenes of Gyre doing checks and the like, but I personally enjoyed these and though they added both some realism and some great character development for her.

Overall, I've given The Luminous Dead 4.5 stars! This was a highly entertaining read that I couldn't put down. Heartily recommended for fans of The Martian and the like.

*I received a copy of The Luminous Dead in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review!! I also really enjoyed this one! It really made me claustrophobic at times!!