Seth Grahame-Smith’s ‘Unholy Night’ (Book Review)

Mash-up genre author Seth Grahame-Smith’s career is one I’m watching very closely and with great admiration for my own selfish reasons.  I last visited his work in 2010 with my review of his masterpiece, in my opinion, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (see my book review here).  Coincidentally, Grahame-Smith was able to adapt that story to the big screen making it along with Prometheus, one of my most anticipated films this June (see the theatrical trailer here).  In addition to next month’s big screen debut, Grahame-Smith has been keeping himself very busy with his first motion picture writing credit, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, his resurrection of the Beetlejuice franchise, development of a stop motion animated B-movie monster film, Night of the Living, and of course, the reason we are all here, last April’s release of his third full length novel, Unholy Night. But wait!  Stop the press!  I’m also ecstatic to report that not only did Warner Bros. already pick up the film rights for Unholy Night, but also Grahame-Smith is getting another chance to adapt the screenplay.  So as you can see, Mr. Grahame-Smith has a lot going on in life.  And you thought you were busy.  Wow!

People can say what they want about Seth Grahame-Smith and his three literary bodies of work, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and now Unholy Night, but in my opinion, there’s no ignoring the guy’s brilliance as he continues to push the boundaries of how far an author can go with developing a fictional story wrapped around or inclusive of an actual series of historic events or a classic piece of literature.  But tell me, who dares to take on the mightiest and most popular book of them all, the Bible? Seth Grahame-Smith, that’s who!  And what a challenge that is.  The man must have “huge” shoes.  That’s all I have to say on the matter.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was a little skeptical and less than enthused when I heard his next novel was going to be about the birth of Jesus and the Three Wise Men that came to see him.  Being forced as a child to attend a Catholic school for eight years and being dragged out of my comfortable bed every Sunday morning to go to church was enough of a religious experience that I could ever want for a lifetime.  In my opinion, religion should never be forced on kids.  They should be old enough to understand and want it in their lives.  To say that I’m not religious is like saying two plus two doesn’t equal four.  The point being…I’m not religious, not even remotely close.  BUT…that does not mean I don’t know my fair share of religion and its many teachings, whether fact or fiction.  I may have been young, but it was completely impossible to tune all religious teachings out.  Besides, be honest with me.  Who doesn’t find the life and crucifixion of Jesus interesting?  My lack of religious devotion didn’t stop me from going to see Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ on opening day.  I wanted to know why.  I wanted to know what Jesus did that was so horrible that he was killed in such an intolerable and horrible manner.

Before you go any further into this review and if you have not seen it already, I want you to check out the below animated video that in my opinion, brilliantly captures the Zack Snyder 300-like action, violence and underlying tone of this exhilarating, religious epic tale.  Yes!  I said it.  I said EPIC!

There’s no doubt that Grahame-Smith’s Unholy Night will cause much debate and discussion in the Galactic Senate, but you can’t say the author doesn’t do his homework in terms of researching the actual historic events.  Who is Seth or I to say what really happened back then, but the way he brilliantly (I keep using this word) blends biblical lore (in this case I’m referring to it as close as I can to fact) and fiction together is both seamless and plausible and quite honestly, almost forgiving if I was a devout religious folk man.  Not once does he take a narcissistic jab or poke at religion, but instead he draws attention and plausibly questions the theories and thoughts of the historic religious period while at the same time bringing a sense of humanity never before fleshed out to the likes of Joseph the Carpenter, the Virgin Mary and of course, the Three Wise Men, most notably, the character of Balthazar.

I read many reviews before settling down with Unholy Night and the one overwhelming complaint I kept finding was from critics and readers alike that were nitpicking over the fact that Grahame-Smith never developed the other two Wise Men enough, Gaspar and Melchyor, like he did that of Balthazar.  Um.  Hello!  Didn’t anyone ever hear of a main character or a protagonist?  His name would be Balthazar.  Quite honestly, I thought I learned all I really needed to know about Gaspar and Melchyor and I was drawn by each turn of the page just wanting to know more about what makes Balthazar tick.  And as God as my witness, Grahame-Smith didn’t fail to deliver.  We, the readers, start and end this epic thrill ride with Balthazar and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I knew by half way through, this was going to make one hell of an action thrill ride movie.  And believe me I know how absurd that sounds with the subject matter this book revolves around.  How interesting can the birth of Jesus be and his trek to Egypt?  You’re just going to have to read to find out.

What I like most about this is that it’s all here.  I’m talking about Augustus, the bright star in the sky, the biblical figures: Pontius Pilot, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, etc, Herod’s decree to kill all male babies, the passage into Egypt and much more.  Not much is historically written and captured about the Three Wise Men.  We know they went to visit newborn Jesus, but who’s to say they really weren’t con men, thieves, grave robbers, assassins and murderers?  Not I.  And certainly not you!  So don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess that’s what I’m saying.

Now if you have been paying attention, you may recall me saying 300-like action, violence and brutality.  This is a hard R folks.  The way Grahame-Smith so vividly describes his death scenes had me seeing red and turning my food away on a number of occasions.  But don’t get me wrong, I loved every swashbuckling move and kill scene in the story.  This is going to make one hell of an onscreen adaption.  I’m thinking along the lines of a cross between 300 and the Starz show Spartacus.

If I could be candid for a brief moment, immediately after finishing the last page of Unholy Night I called my writing partner, Robert Graziosi, up and said we have to get the film rights to this one.  Little did I know, as I made mention to it above, Warner Bros. has already beaten me to the punch.  You win this time WB (screaming at the heavens with my fist pumping the sky).

So what else really is there left to say about this one?  Unholy Night, whether you find it interesting or not, has everything a good story needs to succeed.  You have the protagonist, the antagonist, the love interest and so many non-stop twists and turns that you never saw coming.  And I faithfully loved every minute of them.  If I can boldly go where no reviewer has gone before, let me issue the following statement. Balthazar is the Jack Bauer of his generation.  Whether he knows it or not, he’s on a mission from God and nothing or no one is going to stand in his way.  And I can be certain about the following.  You can bet my nativity scene, if I ever display one for Christmas, is going to look a hell of a lot different now that I have read Unholy Night, and I mean that in the utmost positive of ways.

Until we meet again Mr. Grahame-Smith.  Keep up the outstanding work and please, let me know if you need an extra set of hands.  I’m happy and eager to help!

Pick up Unholy Night tonight!



Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

2 Responses to “Seth Grahame-Smith’s ‘Unholy Night’ (Book Review)”

  1. Gregg

    I know, this book sounds rock star. I’ve got two ahead of it and then I’m game. Great review and I eagerly look forward to diving into the pages here. Actually, the more I keep scrolling up while I’m trying to type this comment, the more I may put this book at #1 in my queue.

  2. Brian White

    Thanks for taking the time to read this Gregg. No one paid me to write this, nor was a product supplied. I felt so strongly about this story that I was driven to write a review about one of my favorite authors. I really think you will love it from all the religious things we always debate and talk about. Let me know ow you like it.