4 out of 4 stars
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What happens to soldiers who have no more battles to fight? What happens to heroes who feel hopeless? What dreams to men dream when all they can remember are the nightmares? Banishing the Darkness by Jeff Spalsbury tells the story of three men trying to answer those questions and make a new life for themselves and find hope as they struggle to heal from the horrors of war. I rated this book 4 out of 4 stars.
The book opens with Harry “Sti” Stiletto having a really bad day. His wife divorced him, he got fired from his job, his car got stolen, and someone kidnapped his dog. The former Afghanistan war hero is left with nothing but heartache and memories. Leaving the old life behind, Sti doesn’t wallow in misery long and sets his mind to making a new life for himself. Remembering the hopeful promise he made to his men as they were caught in the middle of a deadly firefight, he sets off on a quest to reconnect with his team and help them find the dreams they’d once had.
Sti is able to find two of his lost men; Coby, a wise-cracking oil painter and Luis, an alcoholic sculptor. The three men transform an old building in a small town into a rehabilitation and arts center where they slowly do the hard work of healing. Sti, Coby, and Luis fight the uphill battle of getting their center up and running while fighting their own inner demons as well. Sti tries his hand at novel writing and plays the saxophone to relieve stress while Coby and Luis pour themselves into their art in order to feel human again.
Banishing the Darkness doesn’t just focus on the soldiers but introduces us to several other great characters as well. These include a spry octogenarian with a killer cookie recipe, a diner cook who eats up tough mountain biking trails, a lawyer who gives the vocation a bad name, a rough-and-tumble IT specialist, and a no-nonsense bank president with hypnotic eyes. The healing soldiers learn to depend on their new friends in this new life just as much as they depended on each other during war. This book is very character-driven and I found myself rooting for the men and supporting cast throughout the story.
I liked that Banishing the Darkness doesn’t skim over the horrors of war. Battle scenes are described in detail and the realities of coming back home very changed are talked about. The men are clearly very affected by what they experienced and they carry around a tangible weight of pain. Author Jeff Spalsbury obviously did a lot of research about PTSD in soldiers. There were bits of dialogue that seemed forced and awkward and a few clunky sentences that could have been smoothed out, but all those criticisms don’t seem to matter when I think about how much I enjoyed this book. The story moved along nicely and I fell in love with so many of the characters. At one point the author makes an allusion to a sequel and I certainly hope that’s true.
I would recommend Banishing the Darkness to anyone who likes war stories, well-written characters, or stories of inspiration and hope. The graphic descriptions of war, liberal use of swear words, and a scene in a brothel would prevent me from recommending this book to younger readers, but readers not bothered by those issues would likely enjoy it as much as I did.
Banishing the Darkness
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