REVIEW: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction/ Speculative Fiction, Pages: 307, Level: Easy/ Intermediate

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

From the author of the New York Times bestselling Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, comes UNHOLY NIGHT, the next evolution in dark historical revisionism.

They’re an iconic part of history’s most celebrated birth. But what do we really know about the Three Kings of the Nativity, besides the fact that they followed a star to Bethlehem bearing strange gifts? The Bible has little to say about this enigmatic trio. But leave it to Seth Grahame-Smith, the brilliant and twisted mind behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to take a little mystery, bend a little history, and weave an epic tale.

In Grahame-Smith’s telling, the so-called “Three Wise Men” are infamous thieves, led by the dark, murderous Balthazar. After a daring escape from Herod’s prison, they stumble upon the famous manger and its newborn king. The last thing Balthazar needs is to be slowed down by young Joseph, Mary and their infant. But when Herod’s men begin to slaughter the first born in Judea, he has no choice but to help them escape to Egypt.

It’s the beginning of an adventure that will see them fight the last magical creatures of the Old Testament; cross paths with biblical figures like Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist; and finally deliver them to Egypt. It may just be the greatest story never told.

This book has made its way into my top 10 favorite books of all time, possibly my top 5.

The book retells the story of the three wise men. However, in this telling, Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchyor are fugitives who escaped Herod’s prison and a death sentence. Balthazar lived his life as a thief and murderer, winning notoriety as the Antioch Ghost. Gaspar and Melchyor, the latter a master swordsman, had the fortune of being held in the same cell as Balthazar and benefitted from his plan to escape. After a chance encounter with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and then subsequently witnessing Herod’s solution to the problem of the prophesied Messiah, Balthazar decided to assist the family.

The story is filled with graphic violence. Besides murder, there are scenes of grave robbing, pedophilia, necrophilia and torture. Many murder scenes are described in detail. And if you know anything about Herod’s solution, you will know that children and babies are also murdered. So why did this book have such an impact?

The book opens: “The magic of the Old Testament is coming to an end. Great floods, mystical beasts, and parting seas have given way to the empires of man. Many believe that God has abandoned the world…” What a great way to begin a book!

All the characters are multi-faceted and well developed. Balthazar’s life is a struggle with atheism, hatred toward God and divine inspiration. Gaspar and Melchyor’s amazement at Balthazar’s skills becomes unsteady and their true character and ultimate fate are intriguing. Joseph’s struggle with Mary’s immaculate conception is addressed and makes him more relatable- “It’s okay if I call him my son, isn’t it? Surely God will forgive me for that, for I cannot bear to think of him as anything else.” Herod is a monster that disgusts even after you think he could not be any more disgusting. And of course the other characters do not disappoint. But one of my favorite characters in this book was, surprisingly, Pilate. I can’t even begin to describe his character. I looked forward to his appearances and sometimes read those sections more than once.

Bottom line, there are so many people who have at least a basic knowledge of the story of Christ, but it always seems to be almost other-worldly. This book tells the story in a more human way, which I actually found quite moving. If you have a strong stomach and are not offended by revisionism, I highly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Christina

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