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Sebastian Falls merges paranormal romance with Christian themes

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Sebastian Falls

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'Sebastian Falls' by Celeste Holloway is a young adult novel that bridges an interesting gap between YA paranormal romance and Christian-themed fiction.

Ever since her parents' deaths, teenage Meadow has been haunted by horrible nightmares where she is tormented by demons. In the mornings, she wakes exhausted with bruises and cuts left by her all-too-vivid dreams. It's hard enough struggling with her own personal demons of guilt, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder without the threat of literal demons as well -- not that anyone would believe her. The only one who does is her best friend Casey, who Meadow suspects is more than what he seems. Meanwhile, something evil is stirring in the town of Sebastian Falls, and it's up to them to try and stop it. If, that is, Meadow can resist the lure of the darkness that seems to want her.

'Sebastian Falls' has an interesting premise. The evil is capital-E Evil, and the horror and paranormal elements are creepy. The struggle between angels, demons and humans is high-stakes. Most paranormal romance tends to fall outside the bounds of any world order as seen by any particular religion; it makes things simpler and doesn't risk offending the reader. However, the seemingly odd combination of Christian paranormal romance offers a lot of potential to explore world-building. Some readers may think it's great. Others may be offended, or unable to relate.

On the other hand, the writing and characters were just not up to snuff. As a protagonist, Meadow has a good character voice, and the first-person narrative was engaging. The author clearly had a good feel for her main character and conveyed her personality well. However, the writing itself could have been more polished. It did not read as though it were ready for publication. The structure and plotting felt disjointed, sometimes confusing to the point of interfering with comprehension. The first section of the book really meanders, although it does become more clear and focused later. 'Sebastian Falls' was difficult to finish.

As for the characters themselves, Meadow is an annoying protagonist. On the one hand, her suffering makes her sympathetic. On the other hand, she has a snide inner monologue and can be very hypocritical. She sneers at her friends' PDA and is disgusted by the sight of teens kissing or touching -- yet the minute she is alone with her crush, Meadow throws herself at him and takes off her shirt. She'll slut-shame her friend or her romantic rival, but she doesn't care about her own behavior. She is outright bratty to her grandparents, who have taken her in, and to almost every other adult in the book. She has a bit of special snowflake protagonist syndrome where she can do no wrong.

The other characters read like caricatures of teenagers, an adult's idea of what teens these days do when they go camping or hang out with friends. They are even more irritating than Meadow herself. They are callous in regards to her recent loss and PTSD, and actually try to trigger flashbacks and panic attacks to get a rise out of Meadow because she isn't "fun" enough to hang out with. Meanwhile, Casey may meet the attractiveness requirements for a YA paranormal romance love interest, but he is also a little creepy. He has mind-control powers and can force Meadow to do his will or change her mood to suit him. He's an angel, but he's not all that angelic. It's as if he believes that everything he does is justified by virtue of him being on the side of Good (capital G). That sentiment is also where religious fiction tends to lose a lot of readers.

Granted, some better characters are introduced later, but Meadow, her shallow friend group and Casey are the stars of the beginning and first main episode of the adventure. If you don't like them -- and odds are that you won't -- you may not last long enough to read on.

Overall, 'Sebastian Falls' had a lot of potential for an interesting premise and characters, but missed the mark in several significant ways.

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