The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Book – Gyre is determined to get off the mining planet she grew up on and to find her mother, who disappeared years ago. The easiest way to do that is as a caver, exploring the depths of the planet to find new sites for the mining companies that run the world. But caving is dangerous, so rather than take the time to build up a proper career and risk dying before she gets a chance to get out, Gyre’s faked her CV and signed on to one big job that should pay her enough to get offworld as soon as she’s done. Of course, there’s a reason this job pays so much, and it’s certainly not because it’s a normal caving expedition.

I never expected a novel about one person alone in a cave, sometimes talking with one person on the surface but sometimes not, to be so emotional. Gyre is a terrific character, stubborn and foolhardy and paranoid, and I was cheering her on even as I was cursing her terrible decisions. While the novel starts out almost like a horror novel, the deeper Gyre goes into the mystery of why she’s been sent into this particular cave and what happened there, the more the broader universe of mining corporations and alien predators – not to mention Gyre’s developing relationship with her handler, the woman who hired her for this expedition – comes into play. I adored The Luminous Dead and I can’t wait to see what Caitlin Starling does next.

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

Book – Simon Newman has a very niche career – it’s the mid-2000s, and he and his best friend run a website of dark and creepy content. Desperate to attract subscribers for “Journey to the Darkside,” he hires a guide to take him through Cwm Pot, a notorious cave system in Wales where three cavers died in a flood. Simon escapes with his life, if barely; his guide does not.

But one success isn’t enough on the Internet, and the next one has to be bigger and even more dangerous, so Simon signs on to an Everest expedition, hoping to catch some footage of the climbers whose bodies have to be abandoned above 8,000 feet, where it’s too dangerous to try to bring them down. He learns the story of Juliet Michaels, who in the 1990s was trying to become the first woman to climb Everest without bottled oxygen, but perished on the mountain. And in her diary, he finds an eerily familiar story. It seems Juliet was haunted by a lost adventuring partner, just as Simon is. But were they haunted only by memories and regrets, or is there something else out there on the mountain with them?

Sarah Lotz has become my go-to writer for psychological horror: she excels at the kind of atmospheric tension-building that I love. The White Road isn’t seat-of-your-pants scary, but it provides the kind of ambiguous, worrying feeling that I enjoyed so much in, for example, Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Once you’ve read this, pick up Into Thin Air to see just how real Lotz’s depiction of death on the world’s highest mountain can be.