What an unexpected find! Technically a science fiction novel, The Luminous Dead reads like a mystery/thriller diverse survivalist tale with doses of speculative elements and psychological intrigue. Also, lots of caves. Caves on caves.
Spook Factor: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
More people need to be talking about The Luminous Dead.
For those who like to blend their mystery/thriller with the speculative, it's an almost pitch-perfect entry into the niche.
The Luminous Dead follows the underground cave mission of Gyre, the protagonist, as she works under contract for a company exploring one of the many caves on the planet. Gyre's suit comes with a 24/7 communication link to a handler above ground. Her handler, Em, appears to have hidden motivations regarding the mission and things don't always go as planned.
Cue the suspense. This entire novel takes place with Gyre in the cave. We've got Em on the comm link, but it's mainly just this solo woman in the dark trying to survive and get to the last/deepest cave point to complete the mission. It's gripping. It's terrifying. Things happen to Gyre that I'll never forget. Gyre's mission is to travel between six Camps that Em and previous caving teams have managed to establish in the caves and get to the final marker. No one has made it to the final marker, but Gyre has nothing to lose and no way out but through.
If you have claustrophobia, this novel is not for you.
Considering the limited setting, limited dialogue, and repetitive scenery, the pacing is great. I never felt disengaged, and even found myself fighting not to glance ahead to relieve some of the narrative tension. Gyre's trip down into the belly of the beast is gripping and filled with many moments of psychological problems and survivalist dilemmas.
One semi-gross note: There are several bodily-function mentions in this, as the high-tech suit Gyre is wearing has adapted sections of Gyre's body to leave no trace in the caves. If you don't like discussions of body parts, fair warning.
What I didn't like: Between both Em and Gyre, there is too much of a focus on their mistrust for each other. Gyre flip-flops many times on trusting Em, not trusting Em, etc. This concept would have been completely fine, but the motivations and proof for this flip-flopping went back and forth. It wasn’t for me—I was here for the caves.
Recommended reading for anyone who enjoys cave exploration, speculative/horror elements, survival tales, LGBT+, and pulse-pounding intimate science fiction.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.