Have you ever felt claustrophobic while going through a tight space between two walls or even going down into a small cellar to get something quick? Now imagine having that feeling for weeks… The Luminous Dead is an amazing sci-fi horror book which explores loneliness, claustrophobia and the human will to survive.

You will meet Gyre, a cave explorer (called caver) on an alien planet who took a job much beyond her experience. The only other character in this novel is Em; Gyre’s guide who is forever present in her head and who can have complete control of Gyre’s suit. It is a complicated story of trust and survival.

Yet at the same time it is a much more intricate story than that. We get to be inside the character’s head and understand what she is going through while she cannot control her environment and at times, even her own suit.

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The Luminous Dead Synopsis

the luminous dead book cover in lights
The Luminous Dead book cover by Caitlin Starling

Meet Gyre and Em, the two main characters to whom the whole adventure happens throughout the book. Gyre is a caver, who explores caves on alien planets to uncover new resources deposits.

Em is her handler, her guide. She is in front of monitors, looking after the caver’s every step, action and performance. Em has all the information possible on the suit that Gyre is wearing and by contract, can even “help” the caver by administering drugs, sedatives, and even controlling the suit itself!

Gyre has taken a job which is she not qualified for and Em, her guide, knows this. She has lied on her resume, but the pay was worth it. It would be enough to get her off world and to another much better planet than a small exploration planet she is currently on. The job pays well, but that is because most of the people who’ve taken it before, never came back…

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the luminous dead representation of a cave passage
Representation of a cave passage

Discover the alien world of the cave which Gyre is tasked with exploring and advancing to her final goal, which she does not even know to begin with. Gyre is trapped in a suit she cannot take off, fed through packs and she is also alone. Alone except for Em, who is forever present in her helmet and in her head. On top of that, Em know that Gyre lied to her and is using that to her advantage.

“Then tell me what your goal is. Because if it’s the mineral veins, I guarantee you we’ve passed at least two or three already.”

“I don’t need to explain myself to a caver who lied about her experience.”

On top of everything Gyre has to deal with; isolation, lack of control of her own movement and at times destiny, Em forever present in her head, there is a danger that lurks behind the walls of the cave, a tunneler. A monster which lives in the walls of the cave and can kill you in a blink of an eye if you are not careful.

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I enjoyed, a lot, the relationship the author, Caitlin Starling, creates between the two characters. At times you hate Em for being so stubborn on her quest and so controlling, and you can feel that Gyre hates her with a passion as well. But other times, you completely understand Em’s position and are with her 100%. Depending how far you are in the story, your view and position changes of Em and Gyre, the two main heroes of the novel. This is Caitlin’s first book and to be able to pull off such an emotional response from the reader is very impressive.

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the luminous dead book decor
The Luminous Dead book decorated

The story itself is also absolutely amazing. There are subplots to both Gyre and Em which make you discover the characters in new ways. The trust builds and gets ruined by action of both throughout the story which keeps your on the edge of your seat the whole time.

… she didn’t owe anything to Em. She’d only ever wanted to help Em stop the deaths.

Mission accomplished.

But here, now, Gyre wanted Em to witness the people who had died.

The novel is also written in almost a movie format. While reading it, you can vividly image what is happening and if this was to be turned into a movie, it would flow very well.

The Luminous Dead book cave representation

There are intense moments; time running out, there are emotional moments from both characters, scary passages and downright chapters where you cannot stop reading, even if it is 3am…

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Truth be told, I did not find that many problems with the story. There were, at times, passages which were long and not the most intense. However they did help progress the story, so there is no avoiding them.

I would have loved to have more of a horror element, something scarier than the paranoia of characters or the non-physical manifestations in the story. Sure there was one or two moments where it was genuinely scary, but it was just that, a mere one or two moments in the whole story.

Lastly, one of the things that bothered me is the lack of closure on the side story of the book about Gyre’s mother and what happened to her. We learned so much information about Gyre, her mother and what she wanted to do. Yet, we never go to find out if she was ever able to accomplish those desires.

The Luminous Dead hero leaving the cave?

Final Thoughts

This book is perfect for anyone who is a horror and a sci-fi fan. I was reading a lot of horror back in the days and love anything sci-fi related. Therefore, this story is a perfect marriage of the two genres; a lot of sci-fi elements and some internal, psychologic horror.

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  • Great characters
  • Interesting inner struggle
  • Gripping story


  • At times some dull passages
  • Not enough scare factor
Character development

Final Verdict

This is a great book with a mix of some horror elements and good sci-fi. The characters are very well written and make you feel their internal struggles. Worth the read!