Book review – The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Caidyn's review (1)

The Luminous Dead

I received an ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review!


CW: parental death, death, parental abandonment, claustrophobia and some violence

I legit ended this book thinking that

Like I said a while ago, sci-fi isn’t always a genre I gravitate towards. I typically enjoy it, but I don’t automatically reach for it and want to read it all the time. But, I saw this on Edelweiss and immediately realized that I would love it.

Not only is it sci-fi, but it has heavy threads of horror running through it. Horror to the point that I was tense and reading with rapt attention, wide-eyed and horrified. Because, damn Starling can write. (And, this is a debut. Like damn.)

The book is, in a nutshell, the story of a cave and what has happened in it.

Gyre picks up a contract to go into a cave. But, things aren’t what they seem. The contract she signed. The woman leading her. The cave itself. It’s all mixed and insane.

Honestly, I don’t want to get too much into the plot because I feel like it would give a lot away since the story organically unfolded and every reveal didn’t feel quite like a reveal, yet it certainly was one. If that makes sense.

This story is led by strong women, though. Gyre is complex and gloriously flawed. She’s a fantastic lead to bring you through the cave. I got worried at some points that she would annoy me or piss me off — aka, be a Lila Bard character — but while I was annoyed, I felt endeared to her. I understood her.

The other main character is Em, the one leading Gyre through the cave system. Just like Gyre, she’s incredibly complex and a deeply flawed individual, yet one that is so beautiful. I’m all for these amazing female characters who aren’t perfect, yet you just can understand them so well.

It made me so happy to read these strong women in roles that would have usually been occupied by men. One woman exploring a cave and getting sucked deeper and deeper into the weird world that it is. Another woman who is leading it and having to help make tough decisions, along with handle someone who isn’t always cooperative. I loved the blend of traditional feminine and masculine energy in this book. Seriously, it gave me life.

Since this is sci-fi, there is an attached world to it. I don’t think I ever got a big handle on the surrounding world. In this book, that’s not a big deal since it’s a bottle episode of a cave. But, there are some mentions of things that made me go “…what?” even if it never impacted my enjoyment of the story.

Oh, and also, it’s queer. I saw one review mention it in a one-sentence review, but I kind of want to talk about it more. You don’t get an overall hint that these are queer women for most of the book, but it’s there and keeps growing stronger and stronger until the end of the story when it’s really confirmed. I got a bit worried about queerbaiting, but there is a payoff with it. And, that made me happier than anything. Their sexualities were never defined, but it was very clear they were queer the whole time.

I was absolutely entranced by this book. It was amazing to read. I loved it and preordered the book when I wasn’t even halfway through because I knew that it was going to be a favorite of mine.

In short, I’m very impressed by this new author and I can’t wait to read what else she writes!

Talk to me!
Any queer sci-fi anyone wants to rec me so I can ride the wave?

5 thoughts on “Book review – The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

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