66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
UNHOLY NIGHT is Seth Grahame-Smith doing what he does best: Taking that which we know and putting his own spin on it. Like he's done with Jane Austen (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) and Abe Lincoln (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER), Grahame-Smith blends the classic with the supernatural, bringing freshness and excitement to stories that we've all heard many times.
The first thing to note is that this is the best-written of his books. With P&P&Z he was hemmed in by the boring prose of Jane Austen. With AL:VH, since it was written largely as Lincoln's journal, he was restricted to the more formal, anachronistically stilted writing style that our 16th President would have used in the mid-1800s. In fact, with the first two novels, I always enjoyed the concepts more than the actual execution of the novel. But with UNHOLY NIGHT, he's able to open up and write freely. He doesn't use any narrative tools or invoke anyone else's voice to tell the story. He's free to speak as he sees fit, even using modern-day words to describe situations.
The story surrounds the three wise men who are told to have visited Christ at his birth in the manger in Bethlehem. Smith isn't the first to tackle the topic of these three very famous, yet largely obscure, figures. Christopher Moore, in his laugh-out-loud Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, told of Jesus' missing years as he wandered the land searching out the three men from his birth to receive instruction and help him grow spiritually. The story is told from the perspective of Jesus best friend, the girl-chasing, swearing, troublemaking Biff. But while Moore's wise men were enlightened souls rich in both the physical and spiritual sense, Grahame-Smith's trio are a bit less-than-reputable.
UNHOLY NIGHT is really the story of Balthazar, one of the three wise men of the Nativity story. In this world, Balthazar is a master thief, "The Ghost of Antioch", who is the scourge of the Roman Empire. He meets the other two "wise men" as they share a jail cell while awaiting execution. When they do finally meet up with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, it is more by accident and their alliance is one of necessity, as they are all being hunted by the king of Judea, King Herod (*spoiler alert for those who have never heard of The Bible* who has put out an order that all male children under the age of 2 are to be killed since prophecy foretells of a child that will topple the kingdoms of the world). Seeing as all six are fugitives, they form a group and head for escape.
The book is certainly action-heavy as there are many occurrences of chases, sword fights, near-death experiences, and all other manner of danger. Of course, with this being a Seth Grahame-Smith novel, there is an element of the fantastic. While I won't give anything away, there is something chasing the group that is not altogether of this world. A very unique brand of hunter is brought in to track the group, and it's very much rooted in the history and mythology of the time period. Grahame-Smith does a wonderful job of taking the existing Nativity story and weaving it with what is known about that time in history and the region as well as the mythology and occult stories from the era.
It's a very enjoyable read with some unexpected twists and turns. My only gripes would be thus: 1) The ending left me a little flat. It should have been a bit more epic given the build-up. It was a little weak and it had characters acting in ways that went counter to how they'd acted the entire story (not in the "I'm suddenly heroic" type of way, but more of a "convenient to the plot despite being wholly against my established character" type of way). 2) The story took some time getting going. Much time is spent on setting up Balthazar as a character. And he certainly is rich with a very interesting and complicated back story. But it went on and on. No otherworldly elements enter the fray until the book is well over half-over, which leads me to 3) The supernatural elements were underutilized. They've been built-up and established (and it's a Seth Grahame-Smith novel, so we're looking for them) and when they finally spring there's not much story left to really give them room to invoke fear and wonderment. One scene in particular ends quite abruptly and with little explanation. While the scenes of the "hunter" are generally well done and add a nice menace to the story, they're just needed to be more of them.
The last point, and one that I think is very important, the book is not what I'd consider controversial or blasphemous. Grahame-Smith could have easily taken the book in a direction that would have upset Christians or made a mockery of the Nativity story. But nothing of the kind happens. Mary and Joseph act exactly as you would expect them to based on Biblical accounts; and the baby Jesus is treated as the Messiah. There are no scenes where baby Jesus gets possessed by a demon and starts murdering people or something in that vein. The book is just a fun take that attempts to fill in a lot of the gaps in the Nativity story with fun and creativity that makes for a great read. And, as is the case with the other SG-S novels, I feel like this one would make a better movie than a book as it's written in such a way that it practically begs for a big screen adaptation.
If you liked his previous works or are looking for a good, fun read, this is a safe bet.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2012
Not a book I expected to enjoy, especially given Grahame-Smith's previous books which I have not read and never plan to (even given how much I loved this one). I picked this book up from the library more due to my enjoyment of other Biblical parodies (Lamb, Life of Brian, these New Yorker articles-- [..] ) and thought this would fall into the same camp. I was wrong, but pleasantly so. Unholy Night has an earnestness and respect for the source material that I found surprising. Balthazar, the protagonist, begins confused by religion, particularly Mary and Joseph's story of divine conception and their continuous prayer, and develops into a seeker. If this was a book found on the shelves of a Christian book store (which honestly, I think it could be), there would be a scene where Balthazar got on his knees and accepted Christ as his Savior. But this isn't that book, and having grown up reading countless books like that, I appreciated that the possibility was left open but not explicitly drawn out-- closer to reality where we go in and out of each other's lives but don't always know their spiritual journeys.
I also really enjoyed the characters of Pilate and Herod. In these two characters, especially, I felt Grahame-Smith wrote within the structure of the gospels and respectfully expanded. Herod is just hideous, a fantastic villain who is absolutely disgusting. And I loved meeting a young Pilate. There is one line that mentions how he would see Jesus again, but Grahame-Smith definitely assumes that the reader will see the entire character of Pilate through the lens of his final scene with Jesus where he struggles with the decision of who this man is and what to do with him. In Grahame-Smith's story, this struggle begins early.
Beyond that, this is also just a great adventure story that would hold up without the buzzy backdrop. I obviously loved the backdrop, and it was central to the development of Balthazar and the motivations of the characters (plus there are some divine moments that certainly hint at the work of God), but the action is paced well and believable. There's a moment near the beginning that shocked me, and certainly complicated my feelings toward Balthazar, and I love that lack of predictability but complete believability (eh, not a word).
That said-- I finished this book and found it wholly possible that I would be the only one who enjoyed this book so much. Looked around a bit and found that EW even gave it an A. See how it might not work for some, but I loved it.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2012
If you're gonna go a-messin' with one of the holiest stories ever told, you'd better be respectful, or the wrath of the religious right will rain down upon thee like a plague of locusts.
I'd say the author of this book can relax. Only the most pious could find fault here and that will probably be for giving the virgin Mary a bit of spunk and some opinions of her own.
This tale mostly concerns the life and adventures of Balthazar, a wise guy and thief so skilled that his nickname, The Antioch Ghost, is practically a household word. You will learn how he meets two other thieves named Gaspar and Melchyor, and comes to be the chief protector of a young couple and their preternaturally calm infant - a child so unusual that even though he sups constantly at his mother's breast, never, never seems to sully a diaper. Whether fending off an army of the undead or arguing theology with Mary and Joseph, Balthazar never strays from his Inigo Montoyaish quest for vengeance. And even he has to admit - There's something about that baby.
The faint of heart should take care - this is a taut, action thriller with loads of violence, though from what I've heard, it's not quite as gory as The Holy Bible.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2012
The title and topic caught my attention. This was a fun read. Very different take on the birth narrative and yes the author takes some liberties with the material. I thought the book was well paced, the main characters nicely done and the denouement satisfying. Like another reviewer I wish the other "wise men" had been more fleshed out and involved with the story. This book is not trying to make any theological points and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just a solid adventure set in a context most people are familiar with.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2012
Taking on the Christian Bible, in any fashion, is quite brave of an author and publishing company because they know they are going to get a %*$%storm of anger no matter what they do with the work. Therefore, people need to remember that the author is NOT a religious scholar or "fact" checker (I mean, he wrote and produced The Hard Times of RJ Berger for MTV, people! ). This book is a smash up that borrows from fairy tales in a book (The Christian Bible) that was written thousands of years ago and has been translated and re-written countless times. The Christian Bible is not "factual" in any sense of the word. This book/author should not be criticized for not "sticking to facts" or the "original story line" as no one can prove with accuracy the original birth story of Jesus in the first place. This book is meant to be a fun ride - that's all. If you take it as blasphemy, then you need to read a different kind of book.
The accurate depiction of the time: slavery, sexual assault, pedophilia, misogyny, polygamy, violence, greed, ignorance, male chauvinism, religious zealots, illogical superstition, etc. All of this would have been accurate for this period in history and the Christian Bible does contain all of these "taboo" topics that many would like to forget. If you think about it, not much has changed, eh? ;)
The depiction of the "wise men" as actual human beings: thieves, murderers, traitors, sluts, etc.
Mary as a 15 year old girl which is much more accurate for the time period. Current pictures in many churches and mass media show Mary in her 20's, who by the standards of the day would have been "an old maid" if people got married off at 13/14 and lived until they were only 32!
The only bit of disappointment:
I was expecting a bit more humor. The zombie and vampire novels were full of it and I would have liked to have seen more.
If you like easy to read adventure/action stories, then this will be the book for you. Personally, I like a little bit more humor. If some were included, I would have given it four stars.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2012
I heard an interview with the author about this book on NPR and thought that it would be worth reading. When I finished it, I was neither happy to have read it, but I also did not feel like I had completely wasted my time. The story is fairly entertaining, if you do not mind very detailed violence, gore, torture, etc. (Though, the author does stop short of describing sexual encounters and rape.)
My main complaint with the book is that it is poorly written. I thought that it was going to be an interesting spin on an old story, but really the fact that it is the story of the 3 Magi is irrelevant. Mary, Joseph, and 'the infant' could have been replaced by any no-name characters and the book would have lost almost nothing. Additionally, there is no subtlety in the writing. If there is some metaphorical meaning, or theme running with the text, or an attempt at a biblical reference, a reference to another point in the book, the author is sure to point it out to the audience, often with something as obvious as italics.
If you come to this book looking for anything religious--either the growth of your faith if you are a Christian, or a scathing inditement of religion if you are a New Atheist--you will be disappointed, as it provides neither.
Overall, I would only recommend this book to people who are fans of Grahame-Smith, or gory pop-literature, but if you are looking for a well written interesting twist on an old story, this book is not for you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2012
[Note: this seems to have turned into an emotion laden Christian versus anti-Christian thread. That is too bad. I have tried to give a neutral review of the book.]
I very much enjoyed previous Seth Grahame-Smith novels, and his just prior book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was the best so far.
I was spreading Seth Grahame-Smith's praises and got about a dozen friends to read some of his prior novels.
Seth Grahame-Smith was on a well-deserved roll.
His formula was: pick out a historical personage or literary convention that we know an awful lot about, and, then, figure some way of doing a slight twist to involve something that seems out of place, but roughly fits with the language, e.g., zombies in Elizabethan England, Vampires in the ante-bellum Confederate South, etc.
A few of us read this book and were significantly disappointed.
The problem with this book is that Seth Grahame-Smith is writing about something that we have almost no information on. So, when he does his clever characterizations and weaves together a story, you scratch your head and go, "well, no, that could be true I suppose, but so what?" You realize on about page 98 that it is not all that clever, because it turns out, Seth Grahame-Smith can say anything he wants. We just don't know anything about the events he wrote about. I don't know of many people that are looking for a funny, fictional story about obscure Biblical personages.
What motivated Seth Grahame-Smith to pick the topic of the Three Wise Men and the messianic family fleeing to Egypt? I'm not sure, because it does not work for him.
I like Seth Grahame-Smith's writing style, but he needs to get back to his core pastiche.
(Of course, if Seth Grahame-Smith really wanted to be edgy, he could throw some undead into another monotheistic religion's holy work.)
I am not swearing off Seth Grahame-Smith novels, but I will wait until he writes a new one that follows his successful formula. I will leave his thinly disguised political commentary alone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2014
Fantastic read. I couldn't put it down once I started. Great storyline that will keep you guessing what happens next.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2014
I read this after Seth Grahame-Smith's other book Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter, I was a little thrown off in the beginning because it seemed like the writing style was different, but the book hooked me. The characters are different, so I guess it makes sense for the writing to be different. It was a fast and enjoyable read. I had not read a good book in a long time and this became a re-read quickly.
Please understand this is biblical fiction, not meant to be written as actual events
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2014
A great book that certainly captures what may have been the reality of that time. I gave it 4 stars only because of the violence. You need a strong stomach to read about the violence.