Review: Shutter

Title: Shutter
Author: Courtney Alameda
Genres: Horror, Action/Adventure, Thriller, Contemporary
Pages: 367
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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.

Review: I walked into Shutter expecting Fatal Frame and got something much closer to Resident Evil—all sorts of terrifying monsters, lots of guns, paramilitary organizations, and highly trained teams to deal with the undead. I recalibrated my expectations by the end of the second chapter and ended up thoroughly enjoying this fast-paced monster hunt.

Courtney Alameda doesn’t scrimp on the horror, gore, and action, which made the book an exciting read. Long-running action scenes in novels can be tricky in that they can get boring if they’re too similar and too frequent, but Alameda made sure each of the fights were unique, either in location, monsters, tactics, and/or stakes. More importantly, each battle—whether or not it was a win—felt like Micheline and her team had to struggle just to survive. The world of Shutter is a fun one: the undead/ghosts/etc., while not commonplace, are well-known and acknowledged. The Helsing Corps works openly with local authorities, and Alameda peppers the book with references that give the world extra depth. (As a side note, I wish we had gotten a closer look at religion in this world.)

While the monster hunting is engaging enough on its own, the characters in Shutter are what really make the book interesting. Between her bloodline, her special ability, and her training, Micheline has the skills to lead her team, and they respect her hard-earned abilities just as much as she depends on them. Their comradery and banter allow the reader some space to breathe between set pieces—breaks that are sorely needed—and flesh out the characters so that they are more than just Micheline’s backup. Micheline and Ryder’s relationship was particularly well done—despite the seven day timeline, it felt like their UST had been simmering between them for years.

However, my greatest disappointment in Shutter is front and center in the summary: Micheline is the only girl on her team. I’m wary of action/adventure stories that only feature one girl because I believe that there’s plenty of room for more than one girl in any team of badasses. The timeline—just seven days—and hyper-focused goal—get rid of the soulchain by hunting down the creature that cursed them—mean that for the vast stretches of the book, Micheline is the only girl on the page. I would have loved it if Oliver, Jude, and/or Ryder had been female as well, especially since Micheline’s mother’s and younger brothers’ deaths still weigh upon Micheline.

Micheline’s father, unfortunately, was one of the more important characters in the book. I found him to be of the predictable, authoritarian, will-hit-his-daughter-so-hard-he-knocks-her-off-her-feet, will-go-on-a-rampage-and-destroy-her-most-valuable-possessions sort, so his resolution displeased me greatly, especially since it seemed far too easy in comparison to his actions throughout the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you like your horror stories filled with all sorts of monstrosities. While Shutter could have benefitted from another main female character and a less obvious big reveal, the book was a solid action/adventure story with high stakes. Alameda created a rich world—one that could easily have room for another book or two—and I’ll be on the lookout for her future works.

Extras: “The Big Idea” on John Scalzi’s WHATEVER Blog

“Everything I Needed to Know About Monster Horror I Learned from ALIEN” at