With the release of his first two novels, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, Seth Grahame-Smith has been branded both a heretic and a genius. I am firmly ensconced in the latter category, as what he continues to do is push the boundaries of how far an author with real imagination can go with a fictional recounting of history or classic literature.
"The blending of biblical legend with speculative fiction results in a compelling and fast-paced novel that reads like an epic thrill ride."
However, with the release of UNHOLY NIGHT, he may have taken on more than he can chew. The most popular “book” of all-time remains the Bible. To take on a fictional recounting of the birth of Jesus through the Three Wise Men, or Three Kings, who were present on that fated Bethlehem night opens him up to all sorts of scrutiny --- not to mention those who will not be very happy with the subject matter he utilizes to tell a fictional tale.
That being said, what Grahame-Smith has done with UNHOLY NIGHT is nothing short of amazing, and it goes to great lengths not to be controversial. The novel merely attempts to fill in the blanks on one of the great unknowns in all of history --- the back story of the Three Wise Men who were compelled to follow a star that would lead them to the birth place of the Messiah.
As an interesting plot choice, Balthazar is used as the protagonist and central figure in this tale. To begin with, he and the other two wise men --- Gaspar and Melchyor --- are neither “wise” nor are they kings. They are depicted here as common thieves, all of whom find themselves imprisoned by King Herod’s guards awaiting execution. Through an act of trickery, the three unveil a daring prison break whereby they abscond with the robes of three kings and take off into the Egyptian desert.
Balthazar, the most notorious of the three, has been leading a double life. He has come to be renowned for his thieving prowess done under the guise of the Antioch Ghost, which has become a sort of Robin Hood legend and quickly rises to the top of King Herod’s hit list; Herod will not rest until the Ghost is brought to justice. The only thing stopping him from a full-fledged attack on the Ghost is his preoccupation with finding and killing the newborn baby foretold to be the Messiah.
Balthazar’s backstory makes him a sympathetic character. He witnessed the slaying of his younger brother, Abdi, at the hands of Roman centurions who caught him stealing. The centurion who wielded the fatal blow against Abdi claimed his precious pendant --- an item that Balthazar as the Antioch Ghost has vowed to get back. He also has prayed continuously for God to allow him an opportunity to exact his revenge against the Roman soldier.
Balthazar and his two fellow escapees find themselves in a stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem where they come upon another trio --- Mary, Joseph and a newborn baby boy. An angelic visitation tells Balthazar all he needs to know about the danger this baby is in, and he and his fellow Magi vow to protect them at all costs. The odds are stacked firmly against them as Herod’s army is slaughtering all the firstborn in Judea. Making matters worse is that Herod is using the backing of Rome that includes a young soldier by the name of Pontius Pilate.
The blending of biblical legend with speculative fiction results in a compelling and fast-paced novel that reads like an epic thrill ride. Seth Grahame-Smith continues to enjoy success as he is about to see his novel ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER appear on the big screen this summer along with his screenplay for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. UNHOLY NIGHT will cause much debate and discussion, but more importantly will bring humanity to some of the most famous biblical characters of all time.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 27, 2012