Book Review – Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
Screenwriter of Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows‘ and bestselling author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith rewrites history to retell the truly remarkable story of the Nativity’s ‘Three Wise Men’…
It’s one of the most iconic vignettes in history: three men on camels, arriving at a manger, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. An impossibly bright star is suspended in the vast desert sky above. It’s a moment of serenity and grace. A holy night…
But what do we really know about the Three Kings of the Nativity? The Bible says little about this enigmatic trio. Not even their names are mentioned. The historical record is vague at best. How do we know that they were three kings from the East? What if they were petty, murderous thieves – led by a mercurial individual called Balthazar – on the run, escaping through Judea under cover of night who stumble upon the famous manger, its newborn child and his earthly parents?
Here, the brilliant and slightly warped mind behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes a little mystery, plays fast and loose with a bit of history to weave an epic tale. It’s an adventure that will see these thieves fight the last magical creatures of the Old Testament, cross paths with historical figures such as Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist, and deliver the family – as the Bible tells us – to the safety of Egypt. Indeed, this may just be the greatest story never told…
Maybe it was the cartoonish book cover – but for whatever reason, I expected Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith to be a satire (something like Pratchett & Gaiman’s funny take on the Book of Revelations with Good Omens). On thinking it over, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by how Serious Business Unholy Night is. I’d read his previous book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter after all (which had also surprised me by it’s overall serious tone).
This time around, Seth Grahame-Smith applies his unique revisionist twist on that most sacred (and beloved) of biblical stories – the Christmas Story itself. From the birth of Christ, the coming of the Three Wise Men, Herod’s slaughter of innocent babies, Mary, Joseph & Jesus’ escape into Egypt… it’s all there, but with a horror twist. Instead of Wise Men, the trio are criminal thieves and murderers, and far from being a reverential recounting of the familiar story, be sure to expect an extra heavy dose of blood, gore, sex, torture, graphic violence, and yes, even undead rising from their graves. Note: If that short description has already offended you to your core, don’t pick up the book! You will hate it, call it blasphemous and depraved. Promise.
As for me, I confess that I did have some qualms while reading – I wasn’t so sure that I was completely okay with this ultra-violent mayhem way of retelling the Christmas Story. There’s parts that were really hard for me to read through (for example: the descriptions of the violent murders of children and babies). I could also have happily gone without any of the additional (and IMO unnecessary) chapters offering the POV’s of King Herod (why did we need to witness him raping a child for example?) or Pontius Pilate or a fictional evil/dark Magi who added confusing subplots to the story.
So, what did I like from Unholy Night? I actually liked Grahame-Smith’s twist of turning the Wise Men into fugitive criminals who go against their *better* nature and risk themselves to save Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The best was the character of Balthazar who undergoes a dramatic personal journey (his personal obsession with revenge vs letting go and living his life) that I think many can identify with. I ended up liking Balthazar a whole lot, and wished that the whole story had been told entirely from Balthazar’s POV. To be honest, the only reason I read to the end was because I wanted to find out what happened to him.