Kevin Fuss's Reviews > Unholy Night

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
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's review
Aug 06, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2012

Unholy Night is the latest work of history-mash up from Seth Grahame-Smith, the New York Times bestselling author who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

This time, the history lesson given to us involves the "greatest story ever told". The birth of the savior Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem beneath a bright star in the sky, and, according to Grahame-Smith, this was just the start of the action.

The story asks the question "Who were the three wise men?" The Bible speaks very little of these men, who arrived at the manger bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Grahame-Smith asks what would happen if these were not kings, but instead were murderous thieves on the run from the law?

Our main anti-hero of the story is Balthazar, a thief who was known as the "Antioch Ghost" for his feats of felony and murder. We see how Balthazar's skills developed and how he was captured by the Judea King Herod's men. He was thrown into the dungeon, as he was preparing to be executed. This is where he met the other "wise men", Gaspar and Melchyor. A daring escape sent the three of them racing for their lives. They found themselves looking for a place to rest... and wound up running into Joseph, Mary and their newborn infant.

With a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah leading to the fall of the kings, the infant becomes a threat. So Herod sent his forces after the baby.

And suddenly, the wise men, have a baby to protect.

This book was fantastic. I was amazed how much I came to enjoy the character of Balthazar. They dive into his childhood, showing how he became a thief and showing why he became the cold-blooded murderer. As the story progressed, and each time it looked like Balthazar was at his end, I had a strong emotional reaction. And when they tell the backstory of Balthazar's little brother, Abdi, I actually felt tears forming. It was incredibly powerful.

Grahame-Smith's pacing was well done. He does a great job of describing the scene. And one of the strengths of the book, (as well as the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter book) is that he can take this fantastical story and fit it perfectly in with the historical story and make it sound reasonable. It is clear that he researched the time, the history and the Bible because you couldn't write this effectively without that background knowledge.

One of the worst characters (and I say that in the best possible terms) of the book is King Herod. He is one of the most remarkably horrid humans you could imagine. Described in graphic detail, Herod suffered from leprosy and was foul tempered and lecherous. A scene where he killed a young girl he was bedding just because he had received bad news was chilling.

There is a lot of humor weaved into the story as well, much like his previous works. Grahame-Smith has a style of writing with a tongue planted firmly in cheek, and it is very enjoyable. The book reads like a great action adventure story, which it is. The blood and gore that comes from the sword fights and violence of the time is described in great detail, really bringing the pain and the suffering to life. There are some scenes that could be hard to read because of the graphic nature and some people may find it a challenge. These scenes did not bother me. They only brought a further realism to the story.

And, of course, they deal with the topic of religion. Balthazar's doubt of God's existence came from the tragic history of his life and the miraculous events that keep him and the infant safe lead to a renewal of his faith.

I also love the cover. It is simple, attractive, and I just love the feel of the material. I recommend Unholy Night to anyone looking for a new take on one of the oldest stories told.

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