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Something Like a Review: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

I’ve been following Seth Grahame-Smith’s work since Pride & Prejudice & Zombies caught my attention. With each book that pushes the limits of convention (like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or How to Survive a Horror Movie), I’ve approached them with wariness, only to be pleasantly surprised. I was very intrigued by Unholy Night, and after I read the cover copy, I was more wary about it than any other title I’d seen by him. Given the subject matter (the birth of Christ and the story of the three wise men), I was convinced that it was going to either be brilliant or completely fail.

I’m neither easily offended, nor am I one who believes that the stories in the Bible are meant to be taken literally (although that’s a discussion for an entirely different post), so I wasn’t concerned about whether the story would send me into any kind of an uproar. Instead, my caution was more along the lines of the repercussions of reading Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Road to Cana. It was a case of a writer I enjoyed reading and whose work I respected that fell absolutely flat for me. Granted, that story and Grahame-Smith’s Unholy Night take an entirely different approach to the religious story but, as they say, once bitten…

My fears were unfounded. I was very happy with the story and quite addicted to the engaging anti-hero, Balthazar. He was charming, though without intending to be so. He, among others, were not riddled with the virtues assigned in more dogmatic mythology. Balthazar was human and believable, but not the heroic, questing figure you’d expect.  Listening to it, there were times I felt sympathy with him, and times I just wanted to berate him for being an asshole. Another surprising figure was Mary herself. The mother of Christ as a 15 year old girl with what can only be referred to as spunk. She was not the milksop creature she’s portrayed as in religious stories, and I rather enjoyed her. Herrod and Pontius were great characters and gave great depth and a new twist to the stories most people have at least a passing familiarity with.

The challenge that most people would face by taking a religious story and re-telling it without the glossy sheen of faith is being torn apart for mishandling something that deserves reverence. While Unholy Night is certainly not going to be on the Vatican’s recommended reading list any time soon, it also handles the story and religious aspects of it with enough respect to avoid a massive outcry against it from the religious. I wouldn’t be surprised by some grumbling, of course, but Grahame-Smith did a great job balancing the characters’ flaws against their virtues.

All in all, I have to admit that I’m one step closer to being a fan of Grahame-Smith in the same way that I’m a Rushdie fan. I’ll be looking forward to the next one, and I’m hoping I won’t have to wait long.

Medium: audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Multiple formats available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read?: Yes, because I’m sure there are things I missed and I’d like to see if the impact of the characters changes now that I know what happens in the end.

Dead tree worthy: Possibly in the future, but at the moment, I’m content with the audiobook I can revisit. This may change, but for now, I’m not investing in a print copy. Yet.

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