Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
Read by Peter Berkrot
Length: 9 Hrs 48 Min
Genre: Historic Fantasy
Quick Thoughts: Unholy Night is a highly entertaining expansion of the story of Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt, told from the perspective of a flawed but compelling character. While the story is full of humor, it never goes for the easy joke, transporting it beyond slapstick to a fun adventure filled Historical Fantasy.
A few weeks ago I went to see this little movie called The Hunger Games. One of the previews for The Hunger Games is the upcoming, sure to be a hit, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Being familiar with the book, I figured out early what the movie being previewed was. The preview itself slow plays the revelation that this is both a vampire movie, and more importantly, a movie about Vampires being hunted by iconic American Hero Abraham Lincoln. When the movie title was displayed in all its glory, there was this sort of stunned incredulous gasp from the audience, followed by some hoots of laughter. Personally, for me, this was the appropriate response to the concept. Seth Grahame Smith is a writer who has always amused me with the mash up concepts and I look forward to seeing what he was going to do next, yet, I never actually read the books. When Pride & Prejudice & Zombies came out, I had to struggle with my dislike of Jane Austen novels (I know, gasp! Sorry!) and my love of Zombies. Ultimately, my dislike of Austen style romance won out. Yet, I remained intrigued. I have always wondered what kind of writer Smith was. Some books seem so bizarre that it’s often easy to overlook the quality of the writing. When I heard about Unholy Night, a retelling of the Three Wise Man legend, I was intrigued. As someone who was raised in the church, and someone who enjoys a good read, I thought this would be the perfect vehicle for me to jump onto the runaway train of the Seth Grahame-Smith bandwagon.
Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect going into Unholy Night. I expected a clever and funny retelling of The Three Wise Men, with the added twist of these figures actually being criminals on the run. What I got was a well written compelling story of the life of a legendary career criminal name Balthazar, who by a series of events, gets mixed up in Mary and Joseph’s harrowing escape from the lunatic King Herod. While funny at times, the humor is subtext to the tale and not it’s driving force. Smith proves to me that he is a serious writer who can take a concept further than you would expect. The character of Balthazar is not an easy joke, the Frank Drebin of the nativity, but a complex man struggling with faith and loss. The tale itself is well plotted, full of ever escalating danger and swashbuckling action. Unholy Night works well as a Historic Fantasy, along the way we meet some key figures of historic and biblical import. Each person is not just a caricature of the figure, but a fully realized characterization that was obviously well researched and made to feel like real people. Yet, as much as the detail and character development impressed me, the best part was just how plain fun the book was. As someone who grew up immersed in Bible stories, I enjoyed the heck out of this tale. Smith handled a topic that could bring down the wrath of the pious with grace, and I believe that most Christians would appreciate the respect he gives the characters, even if Mary can come off as a bit annoyingly self righteous at times. Unholy Night is a highly entertaining expansion of the story of Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt, told from the perspective of a flawed but compelling character. While the story is full of humor, it never goes for the easy joke, transporting it beyond slapstick to a fun adventure filled Historical Fantasy.
Peter Berkrot reads this story with polish and passion, infusing his obvious delight with the tale into ever word. This is the second time I have listen to Berkrot’s narration, and while I enjoyed my first experience, he really stepped it up for his reading of Unholy Night. The prose was told in a crisp, clear tone, which allowed you to immerse yourself in the tale. His portrayal of the twisted, diseased megalomaniacal Herod was a highlight of this production, balancing humor and a true sense of distaste for this character. I often complain about novels with a specific international locale being read in a sort of Middle American manner. While Berkrot’s accents won’t blow you away, he gives his characters, particularly the woman, an exotic flavor that was appropriate to the text. This was a fun book that was only enhanced by the excellent audio production. Listening to Unholy Night makes me want to go back and check out some of Seth Grahame-Smith’s titles I overlooked.
Note: A special thanks to the people of Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. This title will be released April 10, 2012.