Title: Unholy Night
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 2012
This is the recently released novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter fame. I thoroughly enjoy Seth Grahame-Smith’s writing. Ever since seeing the cover for PP&Z and thought “what a clever idea,” I have made sure to read everything he publishes. And, with his newest novel, Unholy Night, I don’t see a need to stop reading him yet. What I find most fascinating about SG-S, as an author, is his progression from a mash-up writer, in PP&Z, to a historical fiction creator, in AL:VH & now UN. He used Abe Lincoln as a historical personality, with an array of real historical sources, to weave a plausible story about why Lincoln became a vampire hunter and why a nation was almost torn apart by vampires.
With Unholy Night, Grahame-Smith uses a real historical event–the birth of Jesus Christ and his being visited by 3 wise men, as the setting for a tale about who those wise men were–one in particular–and what their motives might have really been. All done with a lack of real historical sources. The English teacher in me marvels at his writing territory and how he keeps pushing into new territory with each new novel. I hope the streak continues.
As for the story itself, Unholy Night follows the journey of one of the wise men Balthazar, also known as the Antioch Ghost, and how he winds up not just visiting baby Jesus, but working to make sure no harm comes to him in light of Herod’s desire to kill the prophesied messiah. The story begins with Balthazar having to escape from Herod’s dungeons and does so with the other two “wise men,” Gaspar and Melchyor. Grahame-Smith weaves together another convincing story of why Balthazar stumbled across Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, and why he decided to help them escape to Egypt.
I thought this book would have some Christian conservatives up in arms about this story, much like the controversy surrounding other books, like The Da Vinci Code. I am glad they have either not noticed this book, yet, or have allowed it to hold its place in fiction literature, as it should. There is nothing overtly outrageous and most of the factual story is kept factual. He simply takes the story of Jesus’ birth and the story of the wise men to expand on what doesn’t exist–the story of why 3 wise men were wandering the desert. It also brings to light, which I think is easily glossed over in church teachings, the horror of the times when Jesus was born. The history teacher in me enjoyed the historical references to Herod’s rule, as well as the rule of the area by Rome.
I also read in the story the growth of Balthazar’s own faith. He begins with a lack of faith, actually he’s almost agnostic–there is a higher power, he just has no idea if it is the Jewish God or not. The journey he makes through the story and his going back to save baby Jesus even after he has no individual need to-in fact, his life would be easier if he didn’t-shows his growth in faith.
Seth Grahame-Smith writes in an energetic, keep-the-story-moving, prose. The story begins with an ibex watching a cloud of dust and ends with an ibex watching what happens to Rome. SG-S’s inclusion of such an innocuous symbol pulls the reader in and makes one sit back and wonder at the wonders surrounding us everyday. I heartily recommend this book to any one who likes a good chase story, a good feel good story, a good story about “wise” guys ;-).
I plan on sharing my love of this story with my students when school returns in the fall. I checked the book out from the library and I will make sure our school library purchases a copy, if they haven’t already!
The one downside to the book has more to do with editing, rather than the actual writing. There were more than a handful of spelling errors littered throughout the book, which should have been caught by a proofreader or editor. This is beyond mildly irritating, simply because of the number of errors. I don’t expect every book to be perfect and can let a few errors slip by unnoticed, but this one had far too many. It displeases me that a publisher would allow a work to be published with so many errors still apparent.
- Anyone who loves a good chase/journey story
- Anyone who loves Seth Grahme-Smith
- Anyone who loves good historical fiction
- Anyone who wants to imagine what Jesus’ first few days were like