Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

     In Seth Grahame-Smith's newest novel, we are introduced to an alternate version of the story of Jesus's birth - and it might make you think twice the next time you see a nativity scene.  In fact, Grahame-Smith's version is anything but peaceful and calm, as the old Chirstmas carol "Silent Night" suggests.  It's violent, bloody, and gruesome.  This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to readers, though.  After all, we knew King Herod was murdering babies left and right, but we didn't have such graphic, detailed passages to really set the scene.

     Unholy Night retells the ancient story from the perspective of Balthazar, better known as one of the wise men who visited Baby Jesus shortly after his birth to shower him with gifts.  But what if their meeting was accidental?  What if Balthazar and the other two wise men were really thieves, escaping the wrath of Herod the same way Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus were escaping?  What if these thieves stole the clothes of noblemen and stumbled upon a breastfeeding Mary and terrified Joseph and soon realized that they shared the same enemy?  But what if, along the way, Balthazar realizes that, even though he is not a religious man, there could be some truth to the great prophecy - the very same prophecy that has prompted Herod to KILL ALL THE BABIES!!??

     Such is the storyline that Seth Grahame-Smith pursues in Unholy Night.   In the same tradition of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the author spices up a well known story with violence, gore, and terror.  But it that far off?  I mean, we all know that Herod was a horrible person.  He killed members of his own family for goodness sake!  He was paranoid, mentally disturbed, and likely suffering from some sort of disfiguring physical ailment.  Seth Grahame-Smith calls it leprosy, wikipedia says it was likely scabies.  Either way, it's super gross considering how much unprotected sex Herod indulged in. 

     This book is like Mortal Kombat meets the Bible.  When Balthazar realizes why Herod is killing a bunch of infants, he is infuriated and vows to stop him, which is how he ends up protecting Baby Jesus.  Plus, as Balthazar says, "there's something about that baby," and he's right.  The child seems to have some sort of protective force surrounding it.  Miracle after miracle occurs before Balthazar realizes that, perhaps in the interest of revenge, it's best to stay under this baby's cloud of protection, which is good because there IS a zombie scene.  How could there not be?

     Unholy Night is daring and controversial, but I don't believe it is blasphemous as some have suggested.  It's basically the same story, but the wise men have different motives.  Balthazar may be a ruthless, untouchable warrior, but he has his own story to tell, which is basically the whole reason Seth Grahame-Smith writes books.  We know so little about history's supporting roles, but sometimes the side characters can be just as interesting as the stars.  We all regurgitate the same version of history generation after generation, but we have to remember...there's more than one side to a story.  And Seth Grahame-Smith's side might not always be that accurate, but it's entertaining, creative, and even thought-provoking.

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