Book Review - Shutter by Courtney Alameda
Updated: May 9, 2018
An effectively creepy young adult horror tale, with some interesting ties to creature legends of old.
To be honest, it took me about a week after finishing this book to actually get the review written up. Which is a shame, as Shutter is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read, and deserves some serious praise. So I'm taking a quick break from the action to get my thoughts out there.
I will say up front that though Shutter is billed as a YA novel, it rarely reads as such. For one thing, this is a very dark and rather gory tale. Courtney Alameda doesn't skimp on the gruesome details, but no matter how macabre things might get, the details and situations never feel like they were thrown in for shock value. Instead, every tidbit serves to ratchet up the tension and provide a solid sense of danger for our protagonists. In fact, the only way in which this DOES read as a YA novel is in the swears department (or the lack thereof).
As for the tale itself, it's a healthy mix of both new ideas and well established genre tropes. The new stuff is definitely engaging, with some cool and unique ideas thrown in the mix. The genre specific stuff is handled effectively, with enough minor variations thrown in to keep it from being TOO comfortable.
Though there are several protagonists on the Helsing team, our only POV character is Micheline Helsing, with all of the history that that name brings. She is a tetrachromat, meaning her eyes can see ghosts and other supernatural phenomena, whereas the average person cannot. FYI, this is a first person tale, which was a type of storytelling I used to have a hard time getting into. This book was a breeze to get through though, so either I'm getting used to first person narratives, or Miss Alameda is simply that good. Honestly, I think it's a healthy mix of both. So yeah...back on track. In Shutter we are in the headspace of a descendent of the great Abraham Van Helsing, he who helped thwart Dracula himself. It makes for an interesting family tree, that's for sure, and helps to establish some of the types of "nocturnal creatures" that exist in this world. Micheline is a pretty fun protagonist, equal parts spunk, angst, and determination. In her world, the supernatural is a well established and documented occurrence, and Micheline has been trained from birth to combat all sorts of undead beasties. What's cool about Micheline is that even though she's tough and trained, kicking ass with the best of them, she's also a little TOO headstrong, impulsive, and sometimes completely WRONG about things. It helps ground the tale a little bit, as she doesn't know everything there is to know about the supernatural.
Though this is Micheline's tale, there's quite a few supporting characters to help flesh out the story. Micheline has her "boys", 3 teammates with various unique skills of their own that back her up and round out her Reaper unit. Each has a distinct personality, and their interactions with Micheline and each other help give them purpose beyond their special abilities.
As for the supernatural entities that Micheline and her team face, they are effectively dangerous and mysterious, giving our well trained unit more than enough headaches and hardships to keep things interesting. I don't want to give too much away, as antagonists that Micheline and co. face are best left as a surprise.
I will say this...there is a central mystery that crops up a little ways into the book, that I think is supposed to be a really big deal. Perhaps the average young adult reader would have missed the subtle clues and the few bits of dialogue that point it out, but I nailed it right from the get go. That posed somewhat of a problem going forward, as I knew exactly what the reveal was going to be, even though our protagonists didn't. Which kind of bothered me, as they LIVE this kind of stuff every day, and should have picked up on that tidbit with a quickness. But, it really didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I just didn't clutch my pearls and gasp! when the cat was out of the bag. Other than that, my only real complaint here is that, after all the supernatural shenanigans that we deal with from basically the word go, the setup to the final showdown was somewhat...underwhelming. This super spooky supernatural bad motherfucker creature essentially just goes into generic Bond villain mode with laying out the ground rules for the final beatdown, with one big handwritten monologue that feels very jarring considering everything else going on. I mean, seriously, all sorts of crazy supernatural shit is going down, major revelations are at hand, entire belief systems have been challenged, and this guy might as well have just written out the play by play on a Denny's napkin and put it in her pocket.
Still, none of that was enough to pull me out of the novel, and I guess everyone gets at least one Mulligan. I am sure that this isn't the last we've seen of Micheline and co., and I am definitely on board for another trip through this gruesome and gory wonderland.
4 out of 5 overexposed but artfully captured stars!