‘The Luminous Dead’ Review: A Lonely, Terrifying Descent

The Luminous Dead is a tense descent into the caves of an alien planet, following a single climber as she attempts to discover a dark secret buried in the caverns. It’s a deeply personal account with only two characters, one climbing and one on the comm system. There are perils at nearly every turn and dozens of moments when it seems like all hope is lost. A sense of dread sets in about halfway through and by the end, you’ll be looking over your shoulder, wondering if that sound you heard is more than it seems.

A few spoilers ahead, so beware!

This is a brilliant science fiction thriller. It starts simply enough, detailing a climb toward an unknown goal. The woman on the other end of the climber’s comm system is impersonal and robotic until things start to deteriorate. Little snippets of this person’s past start to unfold and we realize this isn’t some simple mining expedition but so much more. With every sentence, you’re just imagining being stuck in this dark cave, completely alone. It’s terrifying to imagine and the longer you read, the more that fear begins to build.

I was most impressed by the relationship that grows between these two characters. They’re the only two people experiencing this terrifying journey and they begin to care about one another with each new mission milestone. By the end, there’s a deep connection that transcends most human relationships. It stems from the intensity of their shared experience and the fear that something was so close to being lost. It’s quite powerful.

Overall, The Luminous Dead is equal parts terrifying and heartbreaking. We see the hallucinations of the climber as she struggles to survive, pairing the past horrors of these caves with the fear that she’ll become one of the dead. The book is full of powerful visuals that make you experience the fear of death and the power of surviving against all odds. 

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

The Luminous Dead

By Caitlin Starling
Harper Voyager

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Author: Jacob Olson

Writing about science fiction and fantasy at ReviewsandRobots.com! I write reviews on novels, short stories, television, movies, etc. and throw in a few articles and thoughts as well.