Scott's Reviews > Unholy Night

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
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's review
Jul 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: comedy, historical-fiction-ancient, ancient-rome-historical-fiction
Read in May, 2012

With the annual re-telling of the Greatest Story Ever Told, the Three Wise Men return to the stage for the briefest glimpse of pomp and glory. Who hasn't wondered at these men who were guided by divine providence to bear witness to the arrival of the Son of God? But apart from the shortest of mentions in the Bible, "We Three Kings," and a cameo in "Ben Hur," we know less than nothing about these guys.

"Unholy Night" sets out to change all that with a gloriously subversive, violent tale. Rather than three kings, author Seth Grahame-Smith gives us Three Wise Men who are actually imposters and criminals of the first order. Not only that, but their leader, Balthazar, is the kind of master thief who will set the standard for cat burglars and bank robbers for centuries to come.

This quick novel - you can read it in a sitting or three, and you'll find it hard to put down regardless - is far from a purely secular take on the story of the birth of Jesus. On the contrary, the young Joseph and Mary are all too convinced of the holiness of their charge, and indeed the little cherub Jesus is blessed from above by . . . something. Balthazar, the hero of the novel, tries to maintain his cynical detachment from all things religious, as he still carries the scars from a traumatic childhood. He reasonably asks, what kind of God would put his people at the mercy of tyrants like the Romans? When you learn Balthazar's full story, that's a very good question.

Seth Grahame-Smith writes with humor and blood - there's plenty of swordfighting and derring-do in "Unholy Night." But there is also a sensitivity to the underlying material, and ultimately "Unholy Night" is a fleshing out of the story of Jesus's birth, not an undermining of it. While not as good as Christopher Moore's "Lamb," "Unholy Night" offers the reader an insightful, entertaining trip into the Holy Land at the founding of Christianity and is well-worth the read.

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