Monthly Archives: December 2012

Book Review: Santa Steps Out

Santa Steps Out

This review is part of my Totally F@#$ed-Up Holidays. Enjoy!

Santa Steps Out by Robert Devereaux
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

What if the Santa Claus you think you know wasn’t really Santa? For that matter, if the Santa that Santa knows wasn’t really Santa?

In Santa Steps Out by Robert Devereaux, we are introduced to a world where the Christian angels, mythological figure (like Santa and the Easter Bunny), and even God himself were once other mythological being, but had their identities erased and were cast in new roles by the current being who calls himself God. This isn’t a spoiler, You’re told as much in the very beginning. For example, the angel Michael was originally Hermes, or the Son (guess who?) was at one time known as Apollo. Even Mrs. Claus was once another mythological being. And instead of Rudolph, Santa’s reindeer are led by Lucifer with flaming antlers (although there’s not indication that he is any relation to the Biblical Lucifer). But there’s a flaw with this new order, and certain mythological beings must never see each other, lest their true identities begin to leak through.

This is the case with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. At one point, by sheer accident, they see each other, and a lusty past between them begins to leak through and revive, and Santa’s original identity begins to leak through and fights with himself (think Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings”). Then the Easter Bunny enters the fray. Take that for what you will.

It seems silly, but Santa Steps Out is actually incredibly good, not to mention surprisingly deep. It’s one of those books that makes you think at first that it’s going to be low-brow, highly sexualized and based solely on shock value. But it’s not this at all. It goes deeply into the subjects of history, identity, love, family, and loyalty.

The author’s choice of words doesn’t make it the easiest of reads. It’s like if Vladimir Nabokov wrote sexual holiday-themed bizarro fiction. Yet it’s so engaging that you never feel lost. The writing style is fluid and artistic, and the editing impeccable (something I’m usually a stickler for). Looking at the cover and the title, it really takes you by surprise. This book was a genuine pleasure to read.

The only complaint I have was the ending. Most of the answers we’re looking looking for are relegated to an epilogue, and things seem to get tied up too quickly, even with the subtle hint at the end that there is more to come. There is a sequel, Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes, which I will eventually get around to reading if it’s anything like this book. Still, at the end it did feel like the author might have written himself into a corner and had to resort to deus ex machina to end the book, even while deus ex machina seemed inevitable. With knowledge that there is a sequel, this takes some of the sting out of it, as Santa Steps Out is rather hefty compared to many bizarro books, not to its detriment.

Santa Steps Out by Robert Devereaux earns 4.5 gold coins out of 5.

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Book Review: Unholy Night

Unholy Night

This review is part of my Totally F@#$ed-Up Holidays. Enjoy!

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We generally know the story of the three wise men, who came to Jesus in the manger bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some say they were sages. Some say they were ancient astronomers. But what if the real story was entirely different and not told until now?

Okay, okay, it’s not the “real” story, per se, but it’s still a story. Unholy Night is written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the other re-imaginings Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the recently-turned-into-a-movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Having read the others, I can definitely say that Unholy Night is Grahame-Smith’s most solid work so far.

The story primarily follows Balthazar, a thief who is known more commonly as the Antioch Ghost. After a series of mishaps on his latest caper, he is captured and brought before the diseased and decrepit Herod, who sentences him to death. While awaiting his fate in the dungeon cell, he meets two other thieves, Gaspar and Melchyor, and the three escape disguised in magis’ robes. They flee to the nearest location they can find to hide, which happens to be a manger in the nearby town of Bethlehem… You see where this is going?

The story is actually a lot more complicated than this, involving a deep pain in Balthazar’s past, the search for a lost pendant, and political dealing between the Romans and the Judeans. And, to be honest, I kind of liked it.

This is a much more solid book than the author’s previous work. I was really disappointed with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that may have more to do with the fact that I’m not that fond of the source material. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter felt like it was just okay and unevenly paced. It wasn’t that good, but it wasn’t bad either; it was just okay. With Unholy Night, Seth Grahame-Smith seems to have found his voice. It’s actually an exciting adventure story, involving sword and sorcery (as the runners are being pursued by a real magi) with decent pacing, some good mystery, and actually character development. Granted, the character development can be a little ham-fisted at times, but at least they actually develop and the author put some clear thought into it, and you find yourself caring about what happens to the characters as they flee from Herod’s soldiers with a newlywed couple and a baby in tow.

The only complaint I can give is really a half-complaint, because it is sort of the underlying point of the novel. Things seem to wrap up a little too neatly, with lots of coincidences. I know that’s supposed to be part of the point as it’s supposed to show the hand of God at work in the story, but it still felt way too tidy and could probably have used a little more realism. I would have suggested that some details be altered to deviate from the Biblical story a little more, since it’s such an ancient text that details could easily have been lost or changed over time. It felt like a missed opportunity. But that’s more a matter of taste probably. And, hey, we get an actual answer as to what caused the Great Fire of Rome that Nero ultimately blamed on the Christians. It’s actually kind of a clever reveal.

While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely a fun adventure story that makes a good read for adventure or fantasy fans. It’s a classic Bibilical story mixed with a popcorn adventure movie. A bit Indiana Jonesish, if you will.

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith earns 4 golden pendants out of 5.