They’re an iconic part of history’s most celebrated birth. But what do we really know about the Three Kings of the Nativity, besides the fact that they followed a star to Bethlehem bearing strange gifts? The Bible has little to say about this enigmatic trio. But leave it to Seth Grahame-Smith, the brilliant and twisted mind behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to take a little mystery, bend a little history, and weave an epic tale.
In Grahame-Smith’s telling, the so-called “Three Wise Men” are infamous thieves, led by the dark, murderous Balthazar. After a daring escape from Herod’s prison, they stumble upon the famous manger and its newborn king. The last thing Balthazar needs is to be slowed down by young Joseph, Mary and their infant. But when Herod’s men begin to slaughter the first born in Judea, he has no choice but to help them escape to Egypt.
It’s the beginning of an adventure that will see them fight the last magical creatures of the Old Testament; cross paths with biblical figures like Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist; and finally deliver them to Egypt. It may just be the greatest story never told.
First off, I loved Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter so much it’s absurd (the movie version opens this weekend in the US, btw). As a lover of history and a lover of the paranormal, it was pretty much right up my alley. I just…loved it. Love, love, love. I didn’t know if I’d be as enamored of Unholy Night, and I wasn’t. I did like it, though.
Much like his other books, this is just an awesomely creative idea. I adore the idea of taking events from history (let’s not get into the whole religious debate concerning whether or not it’s a real historical event – despite spending 8 years in Catholic school I’m not especially religious, but for the purposes of review it’s easier to call it real) and giving them a different spin. Or re-imagining old books with a totally new genre, like he did with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
As I said I am not a religious person, but I would think that those who are should proceed with caution with this book. It’s not dismissive of religion or anything, but I can see where someone who is devout might find it sacrilegious. So, fair warning. It’s also not YA, though it’s appropriate for the YA age group.
While the book deals with the search for the baby Jesus in order to kill him, if you are even remotely familiar with Christianity you have an idea how that will turn out (spoiler: he is not killed as a baby) and it does make some situations less tense than they might be if it wasn’t a well-known story. Of course, this isn’t a failure on the author’s part. It just is what it is. Regardless of what someone’s religious beliefs are, most of us are familiar with the bones of Christianity and pretty much know he makes it to adulthood.
The book overall is a bit slow but it really picks up about mid-way through. I liked how Balthazar and the other wise men were not goody-goodies…in fact, they really weren’t good at all. They’re thieves and criminals. Balthazar does have a strong sense of right and wrong, though, so it kind of makes him an anti-hero. He’s definitely the most interesting character in the book, although Mary is pretty kick-ass as well (I’m not sure if that puts me on the “hit with a lightning bolt” list or not, but I’ll take that chance).
Overall it’s a decent read. I feel like it could have been better in some ways, primarily the absence of tension since we all kind of know how the story ends. Worthwhile if you’re a fan of Grahame-Smith or historical/religious re-tellings.