When I picked up The Luminous Dead, I had just moved to a new apartment. I was trying to balance work, exercise, cooking, cleaning, and being a human being. I didn’t feel much like reading; I was spending most of my free time playing video games. But I had this itch, this feeling that I was missing out on something by not continuing to read. I was partway through a highly-anticipated YA fantasy, but I couldn’t seem to commit myself to it (probably more a result of my mental state than the book itself). I wanted to move away from fantasy for a while, either way.
On my counter was a short pile of Harper Voyager books. The Luminous Dead was on top. I was actually on my way out the door, but once I read the first few sentences I was absolutely hooked. Sci-fi spelunking? Sign me up, I guess! I had no clue I was into that, but whatever. I had to set down the book so that I could come back and devour it with more focus. It deserved my full attention.
After that first page, I wasn’t let down. The rest of the book was just as deliciously addictive. I spent most of the next few days walking around New York with my nose buried in a book, Belle from Beauty and the Beast style. The doorman at work literally laughed at me every time he saw me, because “you just don’t see that often anymore.”
Honestly, all I should have to say to sell this book is: High-tech sci-fi cave explorer on a mystery mission. Caitlin Starling somehow creates an intense intimacy between the reader and Gyre, the caver. The tight quarters of Gyre’s world were comforting; easy to fall into. There was still some broader worldbuilding to get the reader to understand Gyre’s context, but most of the focus was on the cave system, Gyre’s climbing skills, and her handler speaking through her helmet. It was intimate, but still absolutely gripping.
This book is also a bit of a psychological thriller, though it’s a bit of a slow burn on that end. The summary describes it as “a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival,” which is pretty accurate. I’d say it’s absolutely terrifying for Gyre, the main character, but it’s way lower-key for the reader. I wouldn’t call it terrifying, but it was certainly gripping and kick-started my heart a couple of times.
I loved listening in on Gyre’s conversations with her handler, I loved watching Gyre navigate the unknown depths, and I loved Starling’s strange ability to make me feel so invested in such a seemingly simple story. I will be on the lookout for her next novel.