The Rule of Sebastian

Title & buy link: The Rule of Sebastian
Author: Shelter Somerset
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novel (254 pages)
Rating: 2 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie S

Review summary: Average murder-mystery in an interesting locale, let down by purple prose and lacklustre characters.

Blurb
Sebastian Harkin retreated to the Trappist monastery at Mt. Ouray, nestled high in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, to escape a past filled with heartache and pain. The arrival of young novice Brother Casey Galvan gives Sebastian hope for the future. But when the monks discover a handsome stranger freezing on their doorstep during a snowstorm, Sebastian, Casey, and their fellow monks find themselves ensnarled in jealousies and passions that eventually lead to murder.

Desperate to conceal the crime from outsiders, Mt. Ouray’s abbot, Father Paolo Cabral, asks Sebastian to help solve the mystery. With Casey assisting, Sebastian plunges deeper into the investigation. But working with Casey threatens Sebastian’s self-control until his desires erupt, along with the dreaded past he has tried so desperately to put behind him. As Sebastian closes in on the killer, Father Paolo intervenes—not just in Sebastian’s search for the truth but in his pursuit of Casey’s heart.

Review
Winter is harsh in Colorado’s San Juan mountains, and the twelve monks residing in the monastery on Mt Ouray know there’s little to occupy their minds throughout the long snowbound months but reflection, prayer, and the tasks assigned to them. Most are content with their lot, but the sudden, shocking arrival of a young Latino man, discovered just outside the monastery in a snowdrift, sets tongues wagging and raises old desires.

Brother Sebastian has lived in the monastery for four years. He left a position of responsibility after realising he couldn’t stem the growing tide of drug and gang-related violence in his home city of Philadelphia. He believes most of his monastic colleagues have fled the world for similar reasons, dissatisfied or afraid of what their lives had become. Despite the attentions of Brother Micah, Sebastian has kept himself to himself until young, handsome Brother Casey entered the monastery.

Casey wants nothing else than to be Sebastian’s special friend, and he’s jealous and resentful when the stranger is found in the snow. When the young man wakes up, he has amnesia. All he can remember are the initials ‘JC’ and later, the name ‘Manny’. His accent suggests he comes from Philadelphia, but his easy use of specific slang points to Puerto Rican heritage.

At first the monks buzz around JC, and the abbot hopes that JC will stay and bring more new blood into the monastery. But it soon becomes apparent that JC has no intention of staying—and nor does he remember why he came in the first place. Then a murder occurs, sending shockwaves through the small community, and Sebastian and Casey must work together to discover who amongst their number is a killer—and why.

This book had all the ingredients to make a really cracking read, but unfortunately it fell short in pretty much every aspect. I liked the unusual location and learning more about the Trappist Order, and I also liked Brother Eusebius. The rest of the story wasn’t as strong for me.

The author presents a very cynical way of looking at the cloistered life. I was glad Brother Eusebius was there to present a different slant on it, but in general there was a lot of the attitude that monks are running away from reality, and even if that’s what Sebastian did, the attitude infects the majority of the other characters as well, which I found disheartening and sad. There’s also a lot of hand-waving over the very real issues of homosexuality within the Catholic Church, and aside from the occasional reference to homosexuality as a sin, no one really questions their commitment to their faith. It’s sort of OK Homo, and while I get the sense of what the author was perhaps trying to achieve, it didn’t entirely work. It’s a huge issue and I didn’t think it was handled particularly well here.

Almost all of the monks at Mt Ouray are gay or bi or have a ‘special friend’, even if their attachment isn’t sexual. The abbot, Father Paolo, is depicted as a sinister, grasping man who desires power more than anything else and who attempts to use his position and rhetoric to seduce the young novices. This abuse of trust is tacitly condoned by everyone within the monastery, including Sebastian, and when further, non-sexual, abuses of responsibility occur, it’s deemed best for the future of the monastery that nothing is ever said or reported. I could believe it in a historical story, but in a contemporary, and especially given Sebastian’s previous career, I found it incomprehensible and actually quite shocking, and what little respect I had for Sebastian pretty much vanished.

The book is written in a detached style that has some nice turns of phrase, but also has a tendency to purple prose and to long tracts of infodump and telling rather than showing. The narrative also distances the reader from the characters, and while we got to know the various inhabitants of the monastery, I never felt a connection with any of them. I didn’t particularly like Sebastian and disliked Casey, who comes across as very needy, and so I didn’t buy into their romance at all.

Considering Sebastian’s previous career, he’s remarkably slow to notice obvious clues, and yet within the last forty pages of the book he suddenly works out the identity of the murderer and, when he confronts the suspect, tells him that it was clear he was the culprit. The process of elimination is poorly handled, given to the reader all in one go rather than dripped out slowly over the course of the book, and looking back at it, this could easily have been novella length rather than being dragged out.

Also, while I have no problem with the reason JC came to be at the monastery, the element of mistaken identity that [spoiler]led JC to try to kill Brother Augustine believing him to be Sebastian required too much suspension of disbelief. If the murderer could see JC and Augustine clearly, then JC would have known that he was about to attack the wrong man[/spoiler], so that aspect of the plot didn’t make much sense to me. To be honest, the whole how and why of the murder-mystery made little sense—I was describing the story to my partner and realised how flimsy the whole thing was.

In addition, there are several POV slips and numerous odd—and incorrect—word choices that should have been caught by an editor (a ‘hypergregarious (sic) police officer’ rather than ‘over-zealous’, for example; or the most glaring, ‘aesthetic’ instead of ‘ascetic’), which unfortunately made the prose awkward and stilted.

This is a book that had a lot of potential but which failed to hit the mark. Fans of the author may enjoy it, but sadly it didn’t work for me.

29 comments

  • This review is right on the mark. It spells out better than I could the problems I had with the book. The worst for me was the telling vrs showing. :wallbash:

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by, Bryant. There were some editorial problems with the book and the telling rather than showing was definitely one of them.

      Reply
  • Okay, I finished. First of all I literary had to force myself to finish, because I was bored out of my mind. Completely agree that narrative makes all the characters distant from the reader. I liked it in Alaska story and still could relate to the characters, not here though. I could not care less about them, except JC, I think it is sad that the only character I felt something positive for was JC. I mean, I thought Sebastian was fine for the most of the story – the ending was infuriating for me and I wanted to slap him and hard. I was okay with Casey, did not hate him or anything, yeah he was needy, but those relationships happen too and I never bought that the book was romance in the first place. Abbot was the most infuriating though.

    Two-three stars at most.

    Reply
    • Hi Sirius, thanks for coming back and letting me know your thoughts. It’s fascinating how a detached style can work in one setting and not in another.

      Reply
  • I would like to make a couple comments on Leslie’s review of this book. She has always been fair and non judgmental in all her reviews, and it’s clear that many other readers felt the same way about this book.

    We write reviews for readers on our own time and I would appreciate it if those of you who drop by this site to read the reviews would not make racist comments about the reviewers. I’m not going to tolerate it. You know nothing about the reviewers, their backgrounds or their history and so please refrain from making personal comments since you have no knowledge of their lives.

    If you can’t be polite please refrain from returning to this site.

    Leslie went to the trouble of purchasing another book by this author that was recommended by others. Not many people would give the author the benefit of the doubt after this book, which by a majority opinion is definitely not the best that this author has written. At least Leslie was open minded enough to try another work by this author.

    It’s going to be difficult to find anyone on this site who will review this author’s work in the future because of your behaviour, so if that was your intention I guess you achieved your objective.

    Reply
  • As a Punjab American I rather identified with the character Brother Casey and his dislike for condescending white liberals. Alaska Hunt and On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch, also by this author, make arguments against certain other accepted mainstream progressive concepts as well so beware if you cannot stomach it. Just thought I’d jump in for a just and due defense of a beautifully written novel with a thought-provoking theme that steps outside the typical boundaries for this genre.

    Reply
    • I am going to have to read this book soon now, too curious because of different opinions -probably today or tomorrow-, but I have to ask. The reviewer clearly explained her reasons for disliking the book. I have not read anywhere in the review that her dislike of Casey was based on how he treated white liberals? I did not see that anywhere in the review. I reviewed both Alaska Hunt and On the trail to Moonlight Glutch on the site and gave both of those books high grades and I still remember them well even now. What if I read this book and dislike it? It will not just be enough for me to clearly explain it in the review, give examples from the book, I will have to hear that I dislike it because of the reasons which I never stated in my review?

      Reply
      • LOL Sirius I think the reference to condescending white liberals was supposed to be a swipe at me 😀 But now it’s been brought up, my dislike of Casey was actually because of something you’ve touched on in previous reviews of this author’s work – and is the thing that was different in the relationship dynamic in Alaska Hunt. But yes, please do read it. I was open-minded enough to give this author another shot and I genuinely enjoyed Alaska Hunt. Will I read another book by this author? Not after these passive aggressive comments, I won’t. Even so, thanks for the rec and let me know your thoughts on this one.

        Reply
        • Oh. Then it is much worse (goes without saying of course). At the moment I am not feeling like requesting any future books by this author for review either despite having mostly positive experience with two that I reviewed. I have no desire to chance getting similar comments in case I will dislike the book. But I will read Sebastian and let you know.

          Reply
    • Hi Veenay, if by your comment you’re trying to imply something about me or my preferences then you’re barking up the wrong tree. If you’d read the comments you’d have seen that I did in fact read Alaska Hunt last night and enjoyed it. I found it very different to The Rule of Sebastian and the stylistic elements the author uses in this novel did not work for me. They did, however, work in Alaska Hunt.

      I stated quite clearly what didn’t work for me in this book. None of it is a personal attack on the author and yet there are people suddenly commenting on here who are terribly defensive about what is, essentially, one person’s opinion. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I’m glad you found it well written and thought-provoking. For me it was nothing out of the ordinary and disappointing compared to the potential it had, and now I’ve read Alaska Hunt, yes, I’m even more disappointed. But so what? This is just my opinion. Flinging passive aggressive comments as you and others have done serves no purpose. In fact it does the author a disservice – I didn’t like this book. I thought it had potential so I tried another book by the author. I enjoyed it. But since so many people have come on here making sniping comments then I’ll avoid this author in future.

      Reply
  • Maybe British women should refrain from reading gay fiction written by American men. Seems they’re the only ones against this one. LOL!

    Reply
    • Hi Nancy, thanks for stopping by. Actually on Sirius’ recommendation I read another book by this author last night and I enjoyed it a lot. Just because this book didn’t work for me doesn’t mean I – or anyone else – will make blanket judgements.

      Reply
  • I had problems with this book too. It was basically DNF for me in that after a third I speed read the rest. I found the characters unappealing and this writer’s style felt too heavy handed.Your review says it all for me. 🙁

    I read Between Two Worlds and found that high in detail and low on impact, but it was way better than this.

    Thanks Leslie. 😀

    Reply
    • Hi Raine, thanks – so maybe it was just this book. If Sirius suggests the same book as you then I’ll pick it up and give the author another shot.

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      • Um….sorry not making myself clear, I found other book quite ordinary, but this one didn’t measure up even to that……. 🙁

        Reply
        • Hm, if Raine did not like it too, now I am even more vary :). But yes, I liked the mystery set in Alaska a lot Leslie. I suspect the style is similar though (with attention to detail) and you will probably not like it either. I am more worried about some substantive issues you highlighted – handwaving of heavy issues does not often work for me in romance. Treating it with light touch sometimes does, but I just do not know about catholic church and homosexuality here as you described.

          Stupid detectives also may or may not work, so I have to think about this one.

          Reply
          • I was looking at the Alaska one. I don’t mind attention to detail but it’s a problem for me when the detail overwhelms the narrative thread, as I felt it did here. It managed to highlight the claustrophobia of being snowed in within a small community but for me didn’t quite go far enough and bogged itself down.

            And yes, the handwaving bothered me. And the detective aspect wasn’t the best, either. I’m picky with detective stories at the best of times but here the conclusion was rushed. Eh, I don’t know what else to say! But I will try reading the Alaska book, maybe it’s just this one that doesn’t work so well.

            Reply
            • I don’t know Leslie – let me know if Alaska worked for you. I also quite liked one of his historicals so I am sure enough that style will work for me in this one too unless he drastically changed it. When I make myself to not worry about your other points I will read this one and let you know.

              Reply
  • Ouch! Three of us in my household read this one and we all liked it. Thought it was rather stylishly written and well plotted, specially compared to this others of the genre. Even liked the political/racial component.

    Reply
    • Hi Barry, thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the book 🙂 I’m afraid it just didn’t work for me but I will try something else by this author.

      Reply
  • I won this book on the site and was really looking forward to reading it considering I really liked two other books by this author. I am afraid not so much any longer. Thanks Leslie.

    Reply
    • Hi Sirius, if you liked the author’s previous work maybe you’ll like this, too? There were some nice turns of phrase but ultimately it never got going for me and considering how good it *could* have been, it just left me disappointed 🙁

      Reply
      • Eh I will read it eventually since I have it anyway and anything is possible, because yes, two books by this author that I read I enjoyed, but some points you highlighted worry me a lot.

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        • Hmm now you’ve got me wondering, because usually we share a similar taste. Which of the author’s other books would you recommend? I’d give him another go because I could see potential.

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  • I was so looking forward to reading this novel as the premise sounded intriguing. It was very disappointing. I, too, gave it a 2 rating for a bland plot, lacklustre dialogue and characters I really didn’t connect with, and who didn’t connect with each other. I need to feel something for my characters and … I felt – meh. Great cover though.

    Reply
    • Hi Madonna196, I know, right! It’s not often you find a M/M book set in a monastery and I was really looking forwards to it – until I started reading it 🙁 So much potential and it didn’t go anywhere. But yes, I liked the cover too, Paul Richmond is great.

      Reply

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