The town of Ashton seems small and humble. A simple college community where everybody more or less knows everybody else. But darkness is encroaching on the town. A new way of thinking is invading, and with it comes an evil humans don't see. The editor of the town newspaper and a young pastor go up against both the human and spiritual forces this darkness brings, and they realize their own world and the world of angels and demons are more closely involved in this evil plot than they realize.
This year I read the first two books of Chuck Black's Wars of the Realm trilogy, and I loved them both. I loved seeing the spiritual realm in our world, seeing God's angels and the devil's demons in the ever-present war for mankind. It intrigued me, and so my dad suggested I read This Present Darkness, since I liked WotR. I picked this up and really enjoyed it right away. It's story takes place in our world, both among human characters and in the unseen spiritual realm. I loved seeing that "world," seeing angels and demons in a steady war of strategy and patience for the town of Ashton.
I liked seeing how the plot in this book was both separate for humans and for angels/demons, but how it intertwined and overlapped each other too. Each side had the same goal, but worded differently depending on which realm you looked at. This story was full of mystery and a lot of unanswered questions in the midst of demonic possession, which sometimes aroused more questions.
The dialogue among the human characters seemed unrealistic in places. It just felt off, not quite a normal human character dialogue sometimes. A few scenes where demonic possession occurs seemed off too, but I haven't come up against that sort of thing, so I may be wrong. But those were a couple things that didn't feel entirely realistic, for the humans.
The angels' and demons' interactions within their own ranks and the overall worldbuilding of them were interesting, too. When the angels interacted with their fellows, there was a mutual respect for each other and each other's accomplishments. But the demons, in contrast, argued and fought with each other as much as they did against the angels. Among the demon ranks they were not above killing each other to be at the "top of the food chain."
The appearance of these spiritual beings was well done, too. The angels are portrayed as warriors, huge and strong and very powerful. They have a feel of firmness and strict control over demons, making them an intimidating force, but with humans they are protective. And they make the reader feel safe whenever we read a section with them. The demons, however, feel dirty and twisted and, naturally, evil. They weren't described in detail, like the angels tended to be, but we're given enough of a description to get the idea, and imagine the rest, with black shadow, yellow or black or red smoke, black wings, and the general aura of evil. Nothing feels safe about them, only dark and greedy power. They're strong, and that can make a reader wonder if they will win or not.
The main characters and villains – human and spiritual – are all developed nicely. Hank Busche is a young pastor who is voted into the church and no one really knows how that happened, but it did and some people don't like it. Hank interacts more with the spiritual side of the enemy than Marshall does, going up against demon-possessed people and rebuking the demons. Hank's faith is strong, bringing him through whatever the demons can think to throw at him. He's not afraid to rebuke the sins of his little congregation, even excommunicating a member for their sins. I liked his boldness in confronting any and all sin, even when the world doesn't consider it a sin.
Marshall Hogan is very active in his mission to expose the truth about what's going on in his town. However, his passion for truth is also his weakness, and the demons (through their human pawns) use it against him to affect his family and business. But I liked Marshall's determination. He and Hank both are bold and straightforward, even if they're about two different things.
The human villains, the heads of this new way of thought involving demons and higher planes and things (I'm not even entirely sure how that works or what, it's just weird), are neck-deep in their meditation and demonic possession/communication. They're both evil and twisted, letting the head demon control their actions and decisions, zeroing in on Ashton.
We also have a few protagonists and antagonists in the spiritual realm to go along with the human ones. With the demons, Lucius and Rafar are instant rivals. They're working for the same side, but at the same time they're looking out only for their own interests. It causes an interesting tension between them, especially when Lucius is essentially dethroned by Rafar. There is a lot of tension.
Among the angels, Tal is a patient and strategic leader. Even when things seem to look bad, he bides his time, knowing this must happen before God claims the victory. He's a clever angel, very wise and very powerful. But he's not perfect, only God is. Tal isn't immune to injury, as we see later on. Another angel (who may or may not be a protagonist, but he showed up often enough, and he's my favorite) was Guilo. He's not as patient as Tal at hiding, and gets restless and itches to fight the demon hordes. When he's set loose upon them, he doesn't display anger or wears a stony frown. He's laughing, and he's mocking the demons he fights. I loved that about him. He loves the fight, like he knows that whatever happens these demons won't win forever, and he revels that his God will defeat them one day for good.
I liked seeing how whatever happened, whatever the demons did, God is always there when His children pray for help. Against the looming darkness that threatened to take over an entire town, Hank didn't lose faith, and the angels were confident in victory. It's a good message to us, too. Whatever evil is in the world, God will win.
Violence/gore: Petty crimes. Angels and demons war against each other. A character is punched in the face, and another is shot.
Profanity: Only referenced.
Sexual content: Mentioned prostitutes. People are falsely accused of rape/molestation.
Other: References to excessive drinking, and the jail in Ashton is definitely not the prettiest. The demonic activities among the humans are pretty dark and twisted, and might unnerve some readers.
Have you read This Present Darkness? What are your thoughts? :D