Dracula meets Ghostbusters in this thrilling if somewhat frustrating YA horror.
Author: Courtney Alameda
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 3 2015
Paperback: 384 Pages
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.?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone (possibly the start of a series)
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Why did we read this book: That cover! Horror YA! The premise!
Dracula meets Ghostbusters in this thrilling if somewhat frustrating YA horror.
Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing family, a student and future leader of Helsing Corps, the institution in charge of killings monsters, ghosts and other assorted supernatural creatures. As a tetrachromat, Micheline is able to see the auras of the undead and using an altered analog camera as a weapon, she captures ghost’s spiritual energy on film in order to exorcise them.
Plunging the reader immediately into action, Shutter opens with a ghost hunt gone wrong, as Micheline and her crew – fellow students Oliver, Jude and Ryder – fail to capture a ghost and are in turn, infected with a mysterious soulchain that starts spreading through their bodies. With seven days to stop the infection before it is too late, Micheline will do anything to save her crew.
The experience of reading Shutter turned out to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, this is a competent horror story that is both creepy and thrilling in the way that it takes full advantage of the seven-day countdown. The science aspect of being a tetrachromat and capturing ghosts with cameras are pretty cool too. But by far, the best feature of Shutter is its central relationships and the development of Micheline’s personal arc. The latter stems from a profoundly tragic past and an ensuing PTSD that is often debilitating. That past is also part of the reason why Micheline is so loyal to her friends and stubbornly takes upon herself to save them. Although the relationship between Micheline and her friends (and one romantic interest) fuels most of the novel and takes central stage, the fraught relationship with her father is the most interesting one – not only because it is difficult but because of the surprising turns said relationship take. Similarly, the ending and the revelation of exactly who is behind the soulchain endangering Micheline and her friends is deftly built up to and successfully explored in the climax.
On the other hand: action sequences are often interrupted by exposition – as the narrative repeatedly makes a point to tell us the history behind Helsing Corps and its relationship with Bram Stoker, Dracula and the original Van Helsings. Interesting? Yes. Clumsy? Also yes.
There is also a promising element that establishes a dichotomy and tension between science versus religion, traditional versus modern within the Corps but those did not entirely live up to their full potential especially when it came to expanding on exorcisms and the uses of crosses and other religious objects.
Likewise, Micheline’s propensity to run into danger and putting herself (and her loved ones) in difficult situations even if taking into consideration how this fit her personality and motivation, was frustrating at best and infuriating at most, especially with regards to a secondary character and their Painfully Obvious Identity.
Overall though, this is an enjoyable, fun read – and I’d read a sequel.
My feelings for Shutter can be accurately conveyed by that single syllable: eh.
There are entertaining things to Courtney Alameda’s debut novel. I am a huge fan of horror, especially horror written for young adults, and I love certain horror elements in Shutter. The science behind necrotic creatures and ghosts, for example, is fascinating – I loved the attention to detail given to the infection process, from “ghostlight” entering one’s body and taking root, then spreading to eventually overwhelm the human host. I also appreciated that while much is known about necrotic infections – bites or scratches from zombies or other ghouls are a known quantity that can be treated, much in the same way one would treat rabies – there aren’t hard and fast magical solutions to infection. In fact, that’s the premise of Shutter and the crux of the dilemma facing heroine Micheline Helsing: she and her team are infected by a completely unknown quantity, and have roughly seven days to find answers… or else. This inquiry and exploration of new infection is easily my favorite part of the book and the most interesting and unique thing Shutter has to offer, reminding me in small ways of Feed by Mira Grant.
The scientific aspect behind ghost catching and slaying is also well established in Shutter, if not entirely original – ghosts and spirits thrive on electricity, using various conductors to apparrate and cause damage in the physical ream. In order to stop them, certain gifted individuals can use natural abilities (in Micheline’s case, the ability to “see” spirits thanks to an extra cone/rod receptor combo in her eyes) in combination with tried and true techniques like fancy treated mirrors, or antique cameras.
Beyond the scientific background and established rules, Shutter also has some interesting (again, if not entirely original) world building going on. Heroine Micheline is the last Helsing descended from the Great Long Line of Van Helsings, and is good friends with Oliver Stoker, who, you guessed it, is descended from the Great Long Line of Stokers of Dracula fame. Now, I know what you’re thinking (because I thought it, too): the urban fantasy conceit of taking Dracula‘s literary origins and spawning a society of paranormal hunters comprising Bram Stoker and his fictional characters (the Harkers, the Van Helsings, so on) has been done, many times before. But, while the prospect of reading more novels using this painfully overused setup might turn you off, Shutter does a better job than most, imbuing some tragedy and grimness in its super society of badass ghostbusters throughout the centuries. There’s a particularly chilling scene in which Micheline reveals her father’s plan for her future – she’s the last Helsing, and her priority is to keep the line alive, so she’ll protect that v-card and will go to the highest bidder…
Which brings me to the issues I have with Shutter. Well, they’re not so much issues as they are feelings of frustrating tepidity. Characterization is key here, as is plotting and writing – but let’s start with character. Micheline Helsing has a Traumatic Backstory. She’s the daughter of the head of the aforementioned society of badass ghostbusters, but their relationship is anything but sunny. The reveal of why that relationship is so fraught and toxic is revealed slowly throughout the book and instantly makes sense with Micheline’s character. She failed, big time, with one past attack and since then has been rushing headlong into danger to protect the people she loves. And while I respect, understand and appreciate that character arc and motivation that drives our heroine, that doesn’t mean that it’s not irritating as hell. When we first meet Micheline, she makes the idiotic decision to give her team the slip – knowing full well that they will chase after her in an unorganized fashion and do everything in their power to save her, thus putting their own lives in even more risk than they would have been had they just worked together from the start. This is a pattern that repeats itself over, and over, and over throughout Shutter. And while the brash heroine rushing in to save the day to protect the people she loves without a single rational consideration of cause and effect is a staple in Urban Fantasy, it is so very annoying, and I’m tired of reading it.
Exacerbating this issue are the other bland tropal suspects. There’s the unrequited crush, whom Micheline can never have but don’t worry – there’s plenty of YA sexual tension from fingertips grazing cheekbones, and hands lingering a beat too long on goosebumpy skin. There’s also the Exceptional Girl thing happening (Micheline’s powers are super special and hardly anyone else has her vision skills), plus Michleine is not like other girls (that is, she’s the only female character in the story, and any other females shown are of the bitchy/flirtatious/silently-implied-slutty variety).
Perhaps most frustratingly, however, is how utterly predictable and mundane the plot is. There are no surprises here – everything is pretty much exactly what you expect, when you expect it.
Like I said… eh.
Shutter isn’t a bad book, but I’m not sure that it’s a particularly good one, either. I don’t think I’ll be back for more in this particular series, but I’ll certainly give other books from Courtney Alameda a try in the future.
Ana: 6 – Good
Thea: 5 – Meh, but leaning towards a 6
Buy the Book:
(click on the links to purchase)