It’d been nearly six weeks of a reading slump and I was getting desperate. One night towards the end of June, I read the opening pages of no less than 8 books in an effort to find a story that would pull me into it’s narrative. Book after book grated on me for one reason or another (my brain is so difficult to please when shackled by The Slump), but then I opened The Luminous Dead.
This science fiction debut is atmospheric and claustrophobic. I was positively hooked within the first two pages and devoured the book in two sittings (I really tried to read it in one sitting but alas, sleep).
About The Luminous Dead
Publisher: HarperVoyager • Release Date: April 2, 2019 • Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult • Genre: Science Fiction • Format: eBook • Source: Purchased
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?
🌌 Set on a different planet
👀 Someone’s watching me
👩🚀 Solo cave exploration
🧠 Psychological thriller
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My Review of The Luminous Dead
I was positively hooked within the first two pages and devoured the book in two sittings. The Luminous Dead gives me similar vibes as Contagion and Pitch Dark, but let me tell you that Starling nails atmosphere: this book is utterly claustrophobic and nerve wracking.
“Everything was painstakingly, extensively designed to protect her from… elements in the cave.“
The stakes and danger are established early on: caving is dangerous but the money is good; most in the profession only do a few jobs before retiring. Life on Cassandra-V isn’t a good one: it’s a population overflow planet in near constant drought. Desperation has led to Gyre taking some… training shortcuts so she can do one big caving expedition and earn enough money to retire afterwards. Turns out this job is more dangerous than she thought and she has to fight her way out alive.
I just love the quiet unease of the story from the beginning. I felt anxious, unsettled, and claustrophobic and the tension is tightly wound within the narrative. I found myself needing to look away from the book every few pages to break the tension building in my body. The book has a slower pace with growing unease that turns into full-blown paranoia. I love how the tension builds; the paranoia grows thick and becomes all-encompassing. What is real? What is imagined?
“Now it was a bone-deep dread, a sickness in her stomach. It strengthened in waves, and the more she fought it, the stronger it grew. She felt it like a presence, like a tug at her center, like she was forgetting something she shouldn’t be.”
The number of times that I audibly gasped while reading this book or simply annotated with the word “NO!” is rather astounding. Mistakes were certainly made and I was like Randy in Scream yelling “behind you!”
Readers who like a lot of worldbuilding may find The Luminous Dead lacking: the focus of the plot is the cave and Gyre’s fight for survival within it, along with the mysteries surrounding Gyre’s mother / Em’s parents. I do wish some more time had been spent building up the world/universe that Gyre and Em live in, but to be honest I was so captivated by the tension that it didn’t bother me as much as a lack of worldbuilding typically does.
“A fleshy bulb squelched beneath her boot, and then deflated in a sudden burst, bioluminescent dust – no, spores – erupting from it and coating the ankle of her other leg with a fine, glowing mist.”
Despite worldbuilding not being a big focus, the writing is vivid and descriptive. I could easily envision the setting: the dark, cramped space with faint sounds of water. This would make an excellent movie and I hope will one day be adapted.
Ultimately, The Luminous Dead is an astoundingly claustrophobic thriller that delves into the minds of the two characters. It’s gripping and full of tension and a book I will undoubtedly think about for a long time.
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy atmospheric stories that blend genres and keep you on the edge of your seat. This is a book best read in daylight with the lights on and the sound of people surrounding you
Recommended if you enjoyed…
No two readers experience a book in the same way; this was mine, but what about you?
💬 Have you read The Luminous Dead yet? If so, what are your thoughts?
💬 Did I convince you to add this book to your TBR?
💬 What sci-fi/horror crossover books would you recommend?