I was looking forward to this, and shunted it above some other books on my TBR. There were a number of things that appealed to me. Firstly, I love the novel The Descent by Jeff Long. Secondly, TLD is wholly two women, talking, in one dangerous location. That's the novel and the setting. Obviously that appealed to me (I'm the author of Lost Solace - two women on a creepy spaceship, communicating by voice). In fact, for a certain number of pages, I convinced myself the surface handler voice - Em - was going to be an AI (making the caver, Gyre, into the tough human explorer like Opal).

And this did pull me in. It's well written, and full of intrigue, and the cave setting is an excellent one for this kind of story. It is long and sometimes slow, but I still wanted to see where it was going during those points. (If I mapped out how many pages I read a night, it would be easy to see when I was in those introspective parts, versus when I rushed through the more exciting parts.) The setting and actions inevitably induce a sense of repetition at times - possibly good for empathising with the caver protagonist, Gyre, but still not ideal for the reader experience. I did appreciate how the author tried to vary it though, changing routes to create more of a forward motion or different perspective, rather than just going back and forth. It's worth noting that this never becomes an action story, so don't come here looking for that (and one of the scenes where it borders that territory <spoiler> the encounter with the Tunneller </spoiler> felt a bit contrived.

So, this story works arduously towards the ending, which is the light of day which we also push towards, wanting to know what will happen to this duo. <spoiler>And it's a happy ending, which works and is satisfying and logical. I appreciated how the novel could have gone the other way - I really thought Gyre might be nearly out, all seeming hopeful, then discover she had killed Em's mother, and Em shuts down and leaves Gyre to die in the darkness. That would be far more bleak like The Descent (film, not Jeff Long's book), or the excellent PC game, Soma. Either ending would work, so I have no complaints on the one we got. It definitely felt natural.</spoiler>

So, overall, it's an excellent book. Nonetheless, it's not perfect. Many of the minor issues I had (e.g. related to the Tunneller) I overlooked as me being overly critical. I did think that, although some good work was done on engaging the senses, I would have liked a bit more - the cave was often a rather anonymous place, and I'd have liked more of the distinctive sights and sounds, more variety, making it easier to visualise. That would have ramped up the immersion.

There were also a few technical issues that puzzled me.

<spoiler> I was unconvinced by the stomach operation and the insertion of food into the intestine. As a fellow author I immediately saw the thematic and plot-related reasons, but in practical terms it made no sense. The food canisters eject food into the intestine. They could just as easily inject it into a tube near the caver's mouth. Nowhere is there an in-world explanation for why expensive and risky surgery is performed which seems completely unnecessary and impractical. </spoiler>

<spoiler>It also brought to mind how the toilet arrangements for the sealed suit were glossed over. Obviously the caver has to urinate and defecate into the suit. I think there was mention of it going into canisters or packs so that it doesn't attract a Tunneller (unless I imagined that). But we never see the protagonist removing or leaving those packs anywhere, or finding caches from other cavers; we never find out how comfortable or not that is, even though we get repeated mentions of other discomforts and unnatural feelings from being in the suit. It needn't have been dwelled on, but the total absence of this aspect struck me as strange when waste removal is an equal part of eating and drinking, as if there's a Victorian cane master bowdlerising and mentions of certain bodily processes - vomit and blood are fine, but piss or shit are not. Shying away from mortality is the opposite of one of the themes of the book (decay), so it weakens its coherence to be coy about this element.</spoiler>

<spoiler> Amputation. Near the end we find out that the suit can amputate limbs. Huh? There is no explanation of the mechanism, which I had a hard time envisioning (do saw blades extend from inside the suit - which would mean they would have to be placed at every limb point; or do lasers burn through flesh, which again would require ultra-powerful lasers at all the internal limb points?). Also, it was weird that this was never mentioned before (especially when talking about ways of committing suicide - presumably decapitation after anaesthetic would have been an option). This felt a bit like it was suddenly added as a convenient plot point.</spoiler>

I couldn't help being bothered by those points, but it wasn't enough to detract from my enjoyment of this book, which I highly recommend.

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