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CONTENT WARNINGS: gore, grief, loss of a loved one
“Nothing monstrous was conquered with a kiss, nor by love. Evil went down by the trigger, overcome with bullets, shutters, blood, and courage.”
After reading and loving Pitch Dark last year, I was excited to check out Alameda’s debut for some more spooky goodness. Friends, while I expected to enjoy Shutter a lot more than I did, it was a creepy and enjoyable read for me. It’s fast-paced and hauntingly atmospheric; Alameda has a way with words that is impossible to ignore. If you are a fan of spooky stories that deliver on the horror with imaginative detail, then keep reading because this book might be for you!
Shutter is told in the third person perspective of Micheline Helsing, the one of the last descendants in the lineage of the Van Helsings, and I honestly was sucked into the book with its opening lines: “Call it a reaper’s insomnia, but the dead wouldn’t let me sleep at night. Everytime the sun went down, I swore I sensed them stirring, starving.” There is something about the writing style that sets an almost noir mood with the words and painting the scene of my mind in black and white.
But noir this book is not (this book isn’t characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity); Shutter is a fantasy/horror novel set in an alternate San Francisco Bay Area where the monsters and ghosts are real and there’s a centuries-old system in place to fight them. Only instead of slayers and watchers we have the Helsing Corps, which was founded by and run by the descendants of Bram Stoker and Abraham Van Helsing (and others that have since died out over time). They fight the things that go bump in the night with technology and Micheline’s instrument of choice is a camera that captures the ghostlight and exorcises ghosts. I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time picturing the fighting scenes in terms of the videogame Fatal Frame II, in which you also use a camera to exorcise ghosts (and the game is terrifying, 11/10).
“We did such human things before we reaped – showered, read the newspaper, kissed our families goodbye – always with the expectation of returning with the dawn. Optimistic by default.”
This book is action-packed and fast-paced, and the writing style is gripping. Unfortunately for me, I got bored with all the action by middle of night three and found myself skimming over a lot of it. This is definitely a me thing: I personally struggle sometimes with action-heavy plots because I appreciate character development and worldbuilding so much, and to me it felt like the action was at the expense of little character development. Our main character Micheline felt like a real, three-dimensional character to me; however, Oliver, Jude, and Ryder felt more two-dimensional to me.
Oliver a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology
Jude can predict death and is a womanizer
Ryder the forbidden love interest for Micheline
They are each very interesting and I enjoyed learning about them, I just wish there was more, especially with Jude and his ability. The four of them have their own little found family and I definitely believed their chemistry. The romance subplot was heartwarming and felt like childhood love to me, in no way forced.
Micheline has the weight of the world and her closest friends on her shoulders, holding a lot of guilt for getting them all into a life-threatening predicament. She disobeyed direct orders and protocol — as well as left her crew behind — to go after a ghost on her own, a decision that has disastrous consequences as they all become infected with some gross ghost goop that leads to them being “soul-chained.” They have seven days to destroy the ghost that chained them, or they will die.
“Bloodlines and last names don’t make a man extraordinary-the extraordinary existed in what we did in life, no in who we were.”
Where this book shines is with its worldbuilding. Alameda crafted an amazingly intricate world that could very well exist right now, and I loved that she used the lore from the horror classics to tie into the story. I loved the technology used as well, the mirrors and cameras relating to the superstitions of these technologies when they first came to be and gave almost a sense of plausibility to their power. Unfortunately, there were some elements of the worldbuilding that bothered me when I thought too closely about them. Like how come she never needs to change rolls of film when taking pictures? If an entity is trapped in an Obscura, how was it also touching Micheline? These little questions aren’t the end of the world to me and didn’t hamper my experience while reading, but Cam and I definitely had LOTS of these when we finished reading! I have to admit that the open-ended ending left me feeling rather unfulfilled, though. There are a lot of questions that come up at the end of the book and none of them are answered. The last few pages are written as if there is going to be a sequel or companion novel, but to my knowledge this is a standalone… so warning if you are bothered by endings that don’t wrap things up nicely.
One of the things I loved about this book is that beneath the surface of this genre-bending monster horror story it is also about Micheline processing her grief. She’s closed off, trusting only in the hunt and technology; in herself. After losing loved ones she kind of pulled away. Her father pulled away. She’s afraid to reciprocate the feelings of the love interest, instead asking him to choose between following the rules or her. I think in a way she wants to solve this problem and save the lives of her found family to make up for the past and those she couldn’t save, but along the way she opens up to love and seeking help from others.
Overall this was a solid debut novel from Courtney Alameda; she has an amazing imagination and talent for pulling together the lore and worldbuilding in her stories. While I enjoyed her sophomore novel Pitch Dark a bit more than this debut, it is obvious from that Alameda is incredibly talented. If you enjoy action-packed stories and horror, Shutter is definitely a book that you will not want to miss!
🤝 Buddy read with the lovely Camilla @ Reader in the Attic!
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.