Review: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Courtney Alameda

Feiwel & Friends
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Published February 3, 2015
384 pages
YA / Horror / Nightmare Fuel

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Horror has a new name: introducing Courtney Alameda.

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens. With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die. Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

I hate this cover. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why since I first saw it months and months ago, but I didn’t even try to get a copy at Comic Con because the cover made me think it would be… I don’t know, super silly or over-the-top crazy full of bad horror clichés? I don’t know. Something about it was just very off-putting to me.

Well, people-who-say-don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover, you were right. This book is awesome. I couldn’t read it right before bed because it freaked me out, but in an awesome, all-the-right-ways sort of way. It’s full of scary things and great characters with complicated lives fighting ghosties and ghoulies and all it’s missing are some Winchester brothers and a 1967 Impala.

In Shutter, a Homeland Security-type division called Helsing fights the daily monsters that creep out of mirrors and woodwork each night. Micheline is the daughter of the head of Helsing, a star pupil being shaped to take the organization over and conveniently a great-great-great-etc. granddaughter of the original Van Helsing that formed the organization. Together with a few of the other top students in her class, including a great-great… grandson of Jonathan Harker, a distant relative of a group experimented on with vampirism and a transplant Aussie badass, Micheline finds herself fighting big bads all around San Francisco.

Shutter opens with Micheline breaking the rules to exorcise a ghost taunting a San Francisco hospital, and it doesn’t go so well. This sets up a plot as she and her friends fight not only the big bad, but also Micheline’s father and the Helsing team trying to “protect” them. There’s lots of action and big set pieces with fighting. There’s adventures with ghosts and other dimensions and plenty of gore.

Micheline is a soldier with tetrachromat, which allows her to see the ghost light emanating from all the creepy things she hunts with unaided eyes. She exorcises ghosts with special cameras created for her, allowing her to trap these things on old-school film. She’s amazing at what she does, but her personal family history has left her with PTSD and a fierce need to protect the people in her life. This pushes her to make rash choices, but she never becomes a stupid protagonist. She’s determined and blinded by her objectives, but also isn’t above feeling fear and emotions that humanize her beyond her soldier life.

The three boys in her life are each a different but pretty standard hero type. Ryder is the strong silent bodyguard, who loves Micheline but won’t give into his feelings because it’s against protocol. Oliver is the super genius computer wizard that doesn’t much go out into the field. Jude is the smart alec with a mouth that happens to also be able to see potential ways people may die when he has skin-to-skin contact.

Okay, maybe not all standard qualities, but these three guys only get a little bit of fleshing out as characters, mostly in how their relationship with Micheline develops. A few hints are dropped here and there to fill them in more, but this is Micheline’s show and everyone else is just filling their parts. But that’s okay because Micheline is such a compelling heroine that she doesn’t need anyone taking up her spotlight.

The writing flows very well, even over the more complicated fight sequences and the gory bits where there are a lot of moving parts. Courtney Alameda is already a master of suspense and freaking me out, so I didn’t mind much when the twists ended up being pretty predictable. The journey was far too much fun to care that the ending was easily seen from hundreds of pages away. I just wanted more adventures with this crew of characters.

I don’t know if I can honestly express how I feel about Shutter in simple words. This is the first book this year where I just want to Muppet flail and tell everyone to read it. Just keep the lights on if you have an overactive imagination and tend to have nightmares.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Opinions are my own. Muppet flailing was gif-ed by someone somewhere at some point and probably a hundred other people too.