Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

A sci-fi thriller set in a cave system, where one mistake might cost your life and where the pressure of the darkness breaks the psyche. Gyre, a cave diver/climber, descends into the cave system, trying to navigate through all the obstacles with the help of her handler, Em. And gradually, the story of why Gyre is there and who Em is and her motives are revealed. The story unfolds through their dialogue and Gyre’s inner monologue. The stakes are high, especially when there is a clear unbalance between Gyre and Em and the secrets they keep.

I went in without reading the synopsis or reading about the book. My first impression was that this was a book about letting your body be altered to fit a high-tech suit to test your limits as a professional inside this dangerous gave system, but soon enough, it became clear that this was more about the personal and the psychological pressure of being under all that rock with Tunnelers on the loose. I was willing to change the perspective as it fitted better to the narrative, but then the repetitiveness and underestimating the reader to make the connections got to me. This book could have been a lot shorter to have the same effect on the reader. I stuck with the book as I wanted to know the mystery behind the story, but it felt irrelevant towards the end. I began to dislike both of the characters, especially Gyre’s inner monologue. I don’t mind characters being irrational. That wasn’t it. It was the naivety of both Gyre and Em and how that seeped into the book’s tone. And I couldn’t feel the psychological tension that I was meant to feel being there, stuck with Gyre.

So, I thought about why this book didn’t work and concluded that this wasn’t a book written for me. But, I can understand why some people like it. It is a bold move to set the entire story between Gyre and Em, and I think that part is well executed. Both characters have depth to them. They are not some cardboard cutouts. Caitlin Starling has created a fantastic setting, and the shift from action to the inner state of Gyre, or communication with Em, is superb. I would have been more immersed with the narrative, the terror being underground, and the tension between Gyre and Em in my twenties. The demons plaguing Gyre and Em are not mine anymore, or the question about sanity and insanity and what one sees and what truly is, is not novel anymore. None of this makes this an awful book, just not one for me.

Thank you for reading. Have a beautiful day!

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