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Unholy Night Hardcover – Large Print, April 10, 2012
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About the Author
Seth Grahame-Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In addition to adapting the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth also wrote Tim Burton's film Dark Shadows. He lives in Los Angeles. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the story’s world, set in the year 2 B.C. during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Antioch Ghost is a legend, the Scourge of Rome and Thief of the Eastern Empire. The moniker belongs to Balthazar, a Syrian, who we find running from the army of Herod the Great, king of Jerusalem, who is pursuing the Ghost after his latest heist. When Balthazar is caught and imprisoned with two more outlaws, an African named Gaspar and a Greek named Melchyor, he must devise an ingenious escape, and three of Herod’s priests (“wise men,” no less) prove integral to that plan.
On the run in Bethlehem, Balthazar and his two companions take refuge in a barn, where they encounter a carpenter named Joseph, his teenage wife, and their newborn son. They also encounter Herod’s men, who have orders from their king to kill every newborn in Judea to eliminate the Messiah, whom Herod’s prophets claim will topple all the kingdoms of the world. (Herod, by the way, proves to be a truly fiendish and memorable villain in this tale!) This slaughter of innocents proves more than Balthazar can bear, motivating him to save the young family and bring holy hell down on Rome.
As far as stories about thieves go – of the medieval and ancient kind, at least – “Unholy Night” is one of the best I’ve read. In fact, had the story simply been about Balthazar the thief, it would be a good read. Balthazar, however, is not a religious man, and like many a thief he thinks only of himself. Yet once he’s involved with Mary, Joseph, and especially their infant child, he’s forced to confront serious religious questions, including the purpose of God. This conflict elevates the novel in my view.
Though despite its religious themes, the novel is no sermon. Instead, it’s a rollicking adventure packed with plenty of supernatural elements for fans of historical fantasy. There’s even a magus – an old wizard who is the last of his race -- employed by the Romans to hunt down the child using unholy magic. And then there’s the young Roman officer named Pontius Pilate who Caesar sends to aid Herod in his dark quest. The appearance of a young Pilate was an unexpected twist, and Grahame-Smith does a clever job of tying the events in this novel to those later in Christ’s life, as well as to a scorchingly famous event in the history of Rome.
In all, I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. My only disappointment is that it’s a standalone novel, which means there will be no more stories about the Antioch Ghost. The man had series potential, but at least, in his only performance, he stole the show.
Grahame-Smith brings to us vivid, imaginative details of Herod, Pontius Pilot, Joseph, Mary and the Babe. Some scenes are fantastical, others surreal. We are but bystanders to a vast, ancient stage that displays the gory glory of Roman rule. Men slay their fellow men propelled by power, greed and revenge.... Balthazar among them until he is thrust into the presence of Joseph, Mary and the Babe, and thus into history.
If you're opposed to age old tortures, swords and all, there are parts of this story you will not like. Still, it is set in the early days of Christ, so parts may be unsettling, but the story is worth it. And, with Grahame-Smith's imaginative gift (Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) one really shouldn't be too surprised. With the lack of facts about the Magi, Unholy Night provides an almost plausible, but certainly entertaining story.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It was riveting, the author weaving them in and out of danger.
The story of the origins of Christ, and he wasn't the main character.Read more
Seth Grahame-Smith is, perhaps, most famous for his books Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, two...Read more