Beware the Obscura: SHUTTER by Courtney Alameda – Review

Shutter 3D

Shutter by Courtney Alameda
Genre: Young adult horror
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release date: February 3 2015
Source: ARC from Comic Con
Pages: 384

five stars

The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly addictive story, with a multi-genre feel that’s got something for everyone. An amazing page-turner that shouldn’t be missed!

When I opened my eyes, I stared up at the ribs of the Golden Gate Bridge. Large, toothy holes were busted into the deck, and chunks of concrete dangled from rebar sinews. Graffiti covered the bridge tower. Dripping water pealed like death knells and the whole structure creaked, its bones fracturing. The sky overhead had the livid darkness of dead flesh, of twilight dying.

While I adore the cover of Shutter, it doesn’t really tell you the whole story. If you’ve heard that Shutter is a frightening horror story, well yes, it is that. But it’s a whole lot more. Mix together Ghost Busters and City of Bones, add a healthy dollop of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you have an approximation of the Shutter reading experience. Alameda is a writer to watch, because not only is her prose really good, but she knows how to write an exciting page-turner. I knew when I started reading that Shutter was a stand-alone, but the more I got to know the characters and the world, the more I wanted it to actually turn out to be a series! Imagine how sad I was at the end when everything wrapped up, no dangling threads or cliffhangers to be found.

When I say “multi-genre,” I mean that it’s a combination of horror, urban fantasy, paranormal, and a bit of a romance as well. It also had the feel of a superhero story, since in Alameda’s world, ghosts and other “necros” as she calls her undead, are a part of everyday life, and it’s up to the Helsing Corps—a military-like group of “reapers”—to keep the rest of humanity safe. Micheline Helsing—and yes, you guessed it, she’s a descendent of Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing—is part of the Corps, and is a tetrachromat, someone who can see the different colored auras of ghosts and other undead creatures. Micheline’s special weapon against the undead is her DSLR camera, which she uses to “trap” the ghosts’ energy, in effect, killing them.

She’s aided by her crew, including Jude, a boy who can see someone’s death when he touches them; Oliver, a computer hacker and technical whiz; and Ryder, a reaper from the wrong side of the tracks who Micheline just happens to be in love with. Together they are usually an unbeatable team. But one night, something goes wrong when Micheline is trying to capture a ghost on film, and the entire crew becomes infected with a “soulchain,” a supernatural curse that will kill the infected in seven days unless the chain is broken. With a deadly deadline hanging over their heads, it’s a race to find and kill the ghost for good.

There were so many layers to this story, I almost don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll talk about the world building first, which I found fascinating. Alameda takes the fictional tale of Dracula and turns it into fact, thus establishing a hierarchy of ghost hunters that descend from the Van Helsings, the Stokers, and other well-known family names from classic horror literature. Add to that the idea that Micheline is nearly the last of the Helsing line, and her father expects her to marry well and continue the family name, in order to preserve her abilities in future generations. Her childhood friend Ryder is not at all what Micheline’s father has in mind, and I loved the Romeo and Juliet romance between the two of them (although that romance does not overwhelm the story at all).

One of my favorite elements was the use of mirrors, and “antimirrors,” which separate our world from the world of the dead, which is literally on the other side of the mirror. Ghosts that are trapped in the Obscura, as this terrible place is called, cannot cross over into the land of the living unless the mirror is broken, and so the reapers take great care in protecting antimirrors. The world of the Obscura is similar to ours, yet dark and decrepit, and I loved Alameda’s descriptions of it.

The author also gives a plausible explanation for how a ghost’s energy can be captured on film. Her descriptions were technical enough that I completely bought into the concept, even though most of the techy stuff went over my head. Some reviewers claim that this idea is similar to that of a video game called Fatal Frame, but not being a gamer myself, I can’t say whether that’s true or not.

The action was nearly non-stop, and the story was so tense in places that I honestly could not stop reading. The entire thing takes place over the course of four days and nights, while the chapter titles count down the hours like a ticking clock. Alameda sets her story in San Francisco, and creates a fictional island where the Helsing Corps lives and trains as part of their duties. There was a very exciting escape scene when the gang is trying to get off the island, but I won’t tell you any more than that so as not to spoil the story for you!

In addition to all the action, Shutter has a surprising amount of emotional moments between the characters, which is just another one of those layers I mentioned earlier. Micheline and her father have a very tense relationship, and in the beginning I couldn’t stand him. But as the story goes on, we get a glimpse into the past and the reasons Leonard Helsing is so angry at Micheline. This particular back story was emotionally fraught and gave what could have been merely an exciting action story much more depth.

I don’t know what Courtney Alameda is working on next, or whether or not she intends to delve back into this compelling world, but I sure hope she does. I didn’t even touch on all the wonderfully drawn characters in Shutter, but trust me when I say I want to know more about each one, and I definitely want to spend more time with them. If you’re looking for your next addictive read, then folks, you’ve just found it. Highly recommended!

Big thanks to Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan for supplying a review copy. Quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.

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Posted January 15, 2015 by Tammy in 5 stars, Reviews / 25 Comments


25 responses to “Beware the Obscura: SHUTTER by Courtney Alameda – Review

  1. You loved the book for many of the same reasons I did, including the non-stop action. I was pretty impressed given this is the author’s debut novel. Pacing in YA is tricky, because I think even some of the most established YA authors can stumble, but Alameda did a really good job and also thankfully didn’t let the romance aspect becoming overwhelming (which is something that happens so much in YA!) I was kinda frustrated with Micheline’s dad though, I think it’s cliched and a little unrealistic for him to be a smart, tech savvy, modern ghost hunter and still be all hung up about his daughter marrying well and preserving the bloodline and all that silliness.
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    • Tammy

      Yeah, I hated her father, and even with the resolution at the end I still didn’t like him that much. But to me it was a typical YA thing to do, throw in an evil parent that gives the child something to rebel against. It still worked for me as a whole, obviously!

    • Tammy

      It was a blast, and WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T YOU SEEN BUFFY YET?? That show alone would give you lots of things to draw:-)

  2. Girl, your review is absolutely spot-on. I’ve read a lot of multi-genre books before but Shutter is one of the very few that really brings out the best in each of them. The action was amazing, the characters were fantastic, the romance was in the background and yet you can’t help but yearn for it, and the world-building was insanely good. I love that she made ghosts scientific, and even made faith something to ward them off as well. I’m so happy to see that you liked this!!
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    • Tammy

      I mention Buffy because they kill all the bad things to keep everyone safe, just like Buffy:-)

  3. Amber Terry

    The cover is what originally made me want to read this–perfectly creepy. But hearing more about the book’s actual contents is interesting. I really like the fact that the author portrays the Van Helsings, etc. as fact rather than fiction. Overall, this one sounds like something I want to check out 🙂

  4. Ashfa

    I won this book in a giveaway but haven’t got a chance to read it yet, though I did read a few chapters on the author’s Wattapad account. I totally freaked out! It’s super creepy.

  5. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few months and I can’t wait to read it. It sounds super creepy. It’s good to know that it has some great characters and emotional dephts, that always makes a book better 🙂