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.

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