Monday, October 2, 2023

Review: Last to Leave the Room by Caitlin Starling


Last to Leave the Room by Caitlin Starling
Tor Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2023
Hardcover. 320 pages.

About Last to Leave the Room:

"The city of San Siroco is sinking. The basement of Dr. Tamsin Rivers, the arrogant, selfish head of the research team assigned to find the source of the subsidence, is sinking faster. As Tamsin grows obsessed with the distorting dimensions of the room at the bottom of the stairs, she finds a door that didn’t exist before - and one night, it opens to reveal an exact physical copy of her. This doppelgänger is sweet and biddable where Tamsin is calculating and cruel. It appears fully, terribly human, passing every test Tamsin can devise. But the longer the double exists, the more Tamsin begins to forget pieces of her life, to lose track of time, to grow terrified of the outside world. As her employer grows increasingly suspicious, Tamsin must try to hold herself together long enough to figure out what her double wants from her, and just where the mysterious door leads…"

If you're looking for a bit of a mind bender to sink into this fall (pun intended, you'll figure out why), then Last to Leave the Room is a book to put on your radar. 

Last to Leave the Room
 has been a highly anticipated read for me because I absolutely loved Caitlin Starling's debut novel, The Luminous Dead, and consider it a favorite. However, I actually really disliked her second novel, The Death of Jane Lawrence, which makes me more hesitant but still always excited to see what she's written next. Last to Leave the Room seemed slightly more in line with The Luminous Dead in style with stronger sci-fi aspects, so I had high hopes for it and ended up having a good time with it. 

Last to Leave the Room follows Dr. Tamsin Rivers, head of a research team who is now tasked with attempting to figure out why the city of San Siroco is sinking. As if that's not alarming and weird enough, Tamsin also discovers that her basement also appears to be sinking–at an alarmingly faster rate than the rest of the city, and with the sinking comes the appearance of a random door in her basement that Tamsin is unable to open. And if even that isn't weird enough for you, a doppelgänger of Tamsin basically appears from that door in her basement one day, leaving Tamsin to figure out just what the hell is going in. I feel like all of this is a lot to take in at the start of a book, and I had so many questions about all of this that I'm not entirely sure if the story fully answered.

Tamsin is a bit of a prickly person. She's not the friendliest, she's a bit arrogant, and she's not the most empathetic person around to her coworkers. But she's also incredibly intelligent and capable and knows exactly how to do her job, which she does exceedingly well–at least, she always has done a great job until the events of this story start throwing things for some loops. She's an interesting character to follow, but I can't say I ever found myself really liking her or connecting with her or her motivations and goals. However, I will at least say that over the course of the story as you learn more about her and how she got to be where she is, it is a little easier to understand her, which helped me feel slightly more invested int he story. That being said, I did still struggle to find myself really care that much about her or what would end up happening, but the premise was interesting enough to keep me engaged.

The pacing of this story is sort of hard to describe. A lot of things happen in fairly short amounts of time, which makes the story feel fast-paced, but at the same time I felt as though there was a lot of repetition and descriptions of Tamsin's life and experiences that made it feel as though we really weren't going anywhere. Once the major events of the premise happen as described in the summary, there seems to be a stalling of sorts where Tamsin seems to quickly lose her nerve and we see a very sudden descent in her abilities and general alertness, which felt disjointed. I just kept thinking that something was missing from the story, like some chapters or important moments had been left out and in turn left me, as a reader, feeling like the story didn't flow as well as it could. 

In this same vein, the first and latter half of the book felt very different from one another. In the first half, we get fairly strong detail about what's happening and things are explained fairly well, but there came a point where it just suddenly felt like the writing lost some sense of cohesion or attention to detail and I started feeling like things were missing or just weren't as carefully thought out as they were previously. Maybe this was done purposefully to imitate Tamsin's own cognitive struggles as things progress, but it didn't work all that well for me and left me feeling slightly frustrated. 

This reminded me a bit of The Death of Jane Lawrence where Starling has fairly strong starts, but then seems to sort of lose me halfway through. It's almost like she tries to do too much with the story or tries to push the story in directions that are a bit too far from what it can really handle, if that makes sense. I felt like this book wanted to be a lot of different things, and I generally enjoyed the mix of genres (some sci-fi, horror, thriller, paranormal), but sometimes her explorations just felt like a bit too much. I almost feel like this could have worked well as a novella because it has more of that style to it where it needs to maintain an air of mystery without too much detail and you often don't have all the information, but it works because it's a short novel. It was perhaps too drawn out, and bit of a lack of resolution in some areas that didn't work for me. 

To add a positive note, though, I would say that this book is wonderfully weird and it will make you questions a lot of different things going on in this story in the best way. It's a little trippy and doesn't always make sense (in good ways!), which will leave you wanting to keep turning the pages to see what will happen. You don't know exactly what's real and what's not, what's reliable and what's not, and this was a great asset to the story when it wasn't overpowering the narrative. 

Last to Leave the Room is a story well worth the read that plays with a lot of different concepts and ideas. If nothing else, it's a fun experiment with a bit of horror, sci-fi, and thriller all rolled up into one. Although I had some issues with it, I still enjoyed the overall experience and would recommend it to someone with a taste for something a little weird. Overall, I've given Last to Leave the Room 3.75 stars. 

*I received a copy of Last to Leave the Room courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.*

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1 comment:

  1. I'm one of the few that didn't enjoy The Luminous Dead, so I've avoided her books since then. Although I do like the sound of this!