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The Luminous Dead

A Novel
Narrated by: Adenrele Ojo
Length: 14 hrs and 9 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)

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Summary

"This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian." (Publishers Weekly)

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival. 

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 that 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?

©2019 Caitlin Starling (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Oozing Claustrophobia

This is definitely not one for anyone with a fear of confined spaces. This is tightly packed, a woman, Gyre, alone in the often cramped tunnels of a massive and largely uncharted cave system. Alone in a tight, mechanical suit essential for keeping her alive but most importantly alone in her own mind as fear and paranoia mount. It's also a very tight book in that there are only two main characters to all intents and purposes as Gyre proceeds only with the company of her remote handler Em. There is a fair amount of detail about caving albeit with a certain level of sci-fi embellishment in terms of equipment.

There is plenty to like, the slow burn of increasing paranoia, the uncertainty about whether Gyre is alone in the cave system for long periods is sometimes well done. However, the publisher's suggestion that this has the 'intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity' doesn't do it any favours. The Luminous Dead takes its time, it delves deep into Gyre's feelings and emotions and holds no fears of repetition. It explores the ongoing relationship between Gyre and Em, two women seemingly poles apart and with literally miles of rock separating them who discover that they have similar drives and obsessions but also crucial differences. Anyone imagining hordes of zombies from the book title is going to be disappointed.

In some ways given the very restricted character set Adenrele Ojo's narration skills were not put to the sternest test. I thought she did a good job even if she isn't the most interesting to listen to during the narrative parts. I thought she really came into her own though during the dialogue and particularly the emotional or stressful scenes.

So, in all, I found this went on just a bit too long to really grab me. There was considerable repetitive thinking developing layers and resolving emotional issues from each of the women's lives, a voyage of discovery for both of them. For my personal tastes, I think the book could have been edited down a little but it will clearly depend on how much each reader feels they are invested in the characters. As I said the blurb talked about this having the drive of 'The Martian' and 'Gravity' but this really isn't what it delivers. For me, too much of the book was spent on fairly repetitive internal monologues and discussions while Gyre and Em moved in seemingly ever-decreasing circles. The ending while also dragged out a little bit more than necessary I probably enjoyed the most but I have to confess I was a little relieved to get there.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Simply boring!

Constantly whining, unlikable characters and hardly any real drama or suspense. I stuck with it until the half way point and finally gave up. No audible credit is worth suffering this dross for one more minute.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for M.A. in TN
  • M.A. in TN
  • 22-10-19

Don't Trust the Description.

I love The Martian and enjoyed the Area X books. This is not those. At first, it's very promising, delivering an intriguing setting and interesting description of futuristic cave exploration tech suits. But that's the peak. The rest of the book is interpersonal drama between its only two characters, with the main one self-sabotaging things at every turn. If you like stories about middle school girls fighting over walkie-talkies, you might enjoy this.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Brooks Talley
  • Brooks Talley
  • 30-04-19

Decent but frustrating

The story was good enough to keep me listening until the end, and the narration is quite good given kind of weak material.

The book is frustrating because it is somewhat like the Martian, except the characters have the emotional maturity of drunk adolescents and respond to every adversity with some combination of panic, recrimination, and suicidal impulses.

Characters oscillate between love, hate, contempt, distrust, trust, respect, despair, you name it. Huge minute-by-minute swings that seem arbitrary and disappear as quickly as they appeared.

It’s a good premise for a book, but it’s not a great book.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • John Jackson
  • 03-11-19

parents issues galore

the entire book is two people crying about parental issues. not worth wasting 15 hours listening to

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Profile Image for Lilyn G.
  • Lilyn G.
  • 20-06-19

Not what I expected, liked it anyways

I was warned off this book by friend who knew I didn't particularly enjoy (understatement) slow-burn horror. However, the cover was interesting (I was down for some hand-shaped submersibles! .... I realized a quarter of the way in that that wasn't a hand shaped submersible) and Adenrele Ojo did a decent job with the narration sample that I listened to, so I decided to step outside my comfort zone.

I liked The Luminous Dead. I didn't love it, but I admired the fact that Starling could still easily hook me and pull me through a story that I found to be not the least bit scary and filled with a romance angle that had me wanting to reach into the book and slap some sense into Gyre.

In less talented hands, I would have DNFed this book partway through. In Starling's, I was left yelling at the book: "It ain't love, honey. Put your hormones away. That b*tch is crazy! You can get laid once you're away from her!" (There might have been more expletives involved.)

I don't object to unhealthy relationships portrayed in text, though. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it has to portray perfect romances. I do hope, however, that no one reads this and thinks "Oh, how romantic!"... Because it's not.

The idea for The Luminous Dead is simple yet effective. Stick a person so deep in a cave that they might as well be on another planet (regardless of the fact that they actually are on another planet in the story), give them access to only one person - have them realize early on that the persona was crazy and play with the story from there.

I felt like as the book got further along there was so much more attention on the developing "relationship" than the fact that Gyre was pretty much constantly in a life threatening situation. So I absolutely loved it when some of the horror elements finally came into play.


One particular scene had me grinning with sheer appreciation. Striving that hard to get your wish is always going to backfire spectacularly, isn't it?

Overall,while I can't say that The Luminous Dead was my cup of tea, I did enjoy it. I think Caitlin Starling is a talented writer and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • LivinInKY
  • 17-05-19

Not The Martian, Not Claustrophobic

I listened to this more than a month ago but didn’t write a review at the time because I felt it would have been too harsh. After a month, I still consider this to be the worst audiobook I have listed to from Audible. The best I can summarize is it features two codependent personalities, one a sociopath and one a masochist, who fall in love while considering the other to be either disposable or a murderer. I listened to the whole thing thinking there had to me a final moment of justice to make the journey worthwhile. SPOILER ALERT: There wasn’t. Sorry to give such a poor review of an authors efforts but I’d really like you to save your credits for almost anything else.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Yarn Owl Reads
  • Yarn Owl Reads
  • 13-06-19

Not for everyone but perfect for me

Some things to know going into this book: it has a slow-pace and a heavy, isolated atmosphere. It is character-driven and essentially only has two characters, who are messy and flawed. It’s a slice-of-life, if your life happens to involve dangerous and sketchy caving expeditions on another planet.

These are all things I absolutely loved. I loved seeing Gyre and Em develop both as individuals and in relation to one another. I loved that I felt curious for the majority of the book. I loved the tension of having an unrealizable narrator. I LOVED Gyre’s caving suit, which (other than the background planetary discussions) is the primary sci-fi focus. If these are all things you might also love, I highly recommend checking out this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Troy M Pfaff
  • 24-11-19

Too long

Should have been much shorter. Repetitiously repetitious, with many chapters essentially the same as one another.

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Profile Image for J ess Eli Ahonen
  • J ess Eli Ahonen
  • 22-11-19

great listen

This was a great book to listen to. You could feel the emotion in every word.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Profile Image for Sara Gomez
  • Sara Gomez
  • 13-11-19

Surprisingly enthralling and beautifully dark

To be totally honest, usually I don't take time to review stories. But this one definitely deserves some props. There are only two characters, and the whole story takes place inside of a dark cave with just the main character, Gyre, there alone with only Em's voice to guide her. 

The author does an amazing job of painting a vivid scenery, as well as entangling you deep into the twisted confusion of Gyre's mind, as she struggles to keep herself from crossing the line between caution and paranoia. 

There are so many twists, and the story is a great dark and creepy narrative to listen to. The narrator does a great job of bringing Caitlin Starling's words to life. 

All in all I will say this: I returned no less than THREE other books before getting this one, because I was not getting drawn into the stories. I was sure this would be a fourth but it managed to win me over and suck me in till the very end. 

P.s. Also love the gay tie in, it's so refreshing to see more LGBTIA+ representation, and not in the cliche way.

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Profile Image for Maggie
  • Maggie
  • 08-11-19

Pleasantly Surprised!

Going into The Luminous Dead, I expected a Descent style horror story featuring monsters or cave zombies. While there IS a little bit of that here, I did not expect to become so invested in the story's two characters: Gyre Price*, an amateur spelunker all alone in an alien cave system, and Em, the voice on Gyre's radio who might be more - or less - than she first appears.

Their tumultuous relationship as it slowly evolves and twists is the real start of the book, but the intensity and isolation we experience locked in Gyre's perspective is worthy of praise, as well. I listened to this audiobook to go to sleep, and there were multiple instances where I would find myself too keyed up to rest. I couldn't leave Gyre in that situation and just go to sleep; I HAD to finish the chapter.

I've recommended this book to five of my friends and all of them loved it, so I feel confident recommending it to anyone who loves character drive horror or queer fiction. I was very satisfied on both counts!

* Could this possibly be a Life is Strange reference? I hope so!