One of my favourite video games when I was younger was Fatal Frame, a Japanese survival horror where you fended off ghosts by capturing them with your camera. I never actually used to play it, I just watched my sister play it, but I loved the atmosphere, the horror, and the idea that you can fight evil with something other then a gun. To be honest, it wasn’t an amazing game. The plot was pretty unimaginative, and the action got tedious after a while, and I’m not sure if we ever actually finished it or not. But the lasting feeling the game left me with was that this was a concept I wanted to see more of: I thought the idea would make an amazing movie, and an even more amazing book.
Which is why I was SO excited about Courtney Alameda’s SHUTTER! Now, a quick declaration: I know Courtney. We met a few years back when I was in Utah and she worked for the library. We did a tour of schools together (during which, when she found out I had never eaten a Twinkie, she ran out and grabbed me one, so I will love her forever), and in the downtime between events we talked non-stop about writing and stories and the things we enjoyed. I remember her telling me about SHUTTER back then, and knowing immediately that this was a book I wanted to read. I saw her again last year when I was back in the US, and I finally got my hands on a copy (thanks Courtney!). And it does not disappoint.
SHUTTER may share a superficial similarity to Fatal Frame, but the plot is completely different, and infinitely superior. It tells the story of Micheline Helsing, the teenage descendent of Abraham Van Helsing (yep, the guy who killed vampires). Micheline is a cadet member of the Helsing Corp, which is essentially an army dedicated to protecting the world from evil. And in this world, evil is everywhere. Ghosts and monsters are real, and they are dangerous. Very, very dangerous. It quickly becomes clear just how treacherous this world is when Micheline and her fellow cadets answer an emergency call at an old hospital (which is pretty much the creepiest location you can imagine). What should be a routine exorcism turns out to be something far worse, something unimaginably awful…
From there, the story is relentless. It barrels along at a brutal pace as Micheline and her friends try to undo the damage that was caused in the hospital, and discover who is responsible. The action scenes are brilliantly written, they flow with an effortless energy and read like a movie. But it’s the horror that I love most. And be under no illusion, this is a horror novel. The ghosts and the monsters are genuinely terrifying, they gave me goosebumps and I am a hardened horror fan. There were moments, reading this, when I was checking over my shoulder, and when I had to flick on the lights at night just to be sure…
With the intense action and furious horror it would be easy to have a central character that fades into the background. But that’s the real genius of SHUTTER – Micheline is a fantastic hero, a beautifully strong presence who effortlessly holds the world of the story together. A teenage girl with a tragic past and a responsibility to her powerful family, Micheline is real and believable, torn by her sense of duty and her loyalty to her family (including her thuggish, overpowering father) and her friends. There’s a love interest there too, of course, but it never takes centre stage at the expense of the story, it isn’t there just because the author feels it should be. It’s just a natural part of Micheline’s conflicted and complicated home life. But characters are conflict, and Micheline’s backstory is what makes her such a force of awesomeness. She is a total badass, but she’s vulnerable too. We care about her.
The plot, too, is perfect. I won’t say too much, for fear of spoilers, but in SHUTTER there exists a world beyond ours, a ghostly plane called the Obscura (a generous nod to Fatal Frame). This was one of my favourite parts of the novel, and I had a mantra while I was reading – please let them go into the Obscura, please let them go into the Obscura – and bam! My wish was granted. It’s one of the absolute best parts of reading (as a writer), when an author thinks along the same lines as you, when the story drives in the exact same direction that you would have taken it (not that I wasn’t shocked and surprised along the way, there are some amazing twists here). It makes it such a pleasurable experience. This is a book that I totally wish I had written myself, because it really is such a fast-paced, scary, action-packed ride. I loved it!!
So, in short, if you’re a fan of horror, of video games, of action movies, of shows like Supernatural and the Avengers, of survival horror, of classics like Dracula, of gore, of super-cool tech, of kick-ass heroes, of the excitement of books like Divergent and The Hunger Games, then READ THIS BOOK!!!
Just one question, Courtney, when will we see the sequel?