Thursday, June 21, 2012

Unholy Night

Our 16th President wields an ax against vampires!

I'm one of millions looking forward to tomorrow's (June 22nd) release of the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Blending facts with fantasy, history and action/horror, this movie promises to be the perfect drive-in theater experience of the summer.  The movie is based on the book by the same name by author Seth Grahame-Smith.  He also wrote the popular book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  When I heard he wrote another book, Unholy Night, which incorporates the characters from the Nativity story, I knew I had to read it.

Grahame-Smith's latest book has already been optioned for film.

Seth Grahame-Smith's latest book Unholy Night was released earlier this spring.  The lead character is Balthazar, a thief of reputation throughout Judea during the reign of King Herod.  Also known as the Ghost of Antioch, Balthazar eventually unites with two other deadly criminals, Melchyor and Gaspar, to protect a young fugitive family who are also victims of Herod's tyranny and his deadly army.  Yes, this is the first Christmas story of the young mother Mary, her husband Joseph, their newborn Jesus on their flight from Bethlehem.  As the familiar Bible story goes, the family flees to Egypt away from King Herod's army acting on orders to kill all newborns.  The jealous, power-hungry Herod is desperate to avoid the realization of a prophesy of a new king of the Jews.  In Grahame-Smith's imaginative book however, you'll find an interesting weaving of accepted truths with poetic license as the three "kings" of orient are recast as a Syrian thief, a Greek swordsman and an Ethiopian fugitive escorting the young family as they all run for their lives.  Under disguise, they cross the desert sands to escape from a Roman army sent by Augustus Caesar headed by a young ambitious Pontius Pilate and a sorcerer (or magus--the singular of magi) hunting them down.  You'll also find other familiar characters within this story, such as Mary's aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Zachariah, and their son John (who many will later call John the Baptist).  It's fun to see how much of the biblical narrative makes it into this fictional action story.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith's first two best sellers were Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

There's a lot of action/adventure in the story with plagues of locusts, hungry Egyptian zombies and violence with steel blades.  King Herod definitely makes for an evil villain--there is great description of his hideous, cursed appearance and ruthless dictatorship.  My only complaint is with the supernatural forces at work here.  With previous supernatural foes such as zombies and vampires in Grahame-Smith's works, I was disappointed with the limited use of black magic from the magus whose motivations were mere threats from Herod and not something far more sinister or darker.  There is also the implied supernatural Power From Above, as God looks over those involved to protect the newborn Jesus.  I get it--it's God's son and the Nativity story.  I think it would have been more interesting if there was a more convincing supernatural villain to challenge the power of God by threatening the survival of the Messiah and the future of man's soul.  The first thing that comes to mind is a Faustian agreement between Herod and The Devil for the king's continued reign and power.  Imagine the potential for conflict and resolution when more is at stake in an epic battle between Good and Evil!

The book's hero and center is Balthazar, the character whose sense of justice and whose emotional ups and downs control the action within the book.  I loved his complex motivations and drive for survival in his unjust world.

Thanks to The Last Temptation of Christ, I always picture David Bowie as the character Pontius Pilate.
Unholy Night has already been optioned to become a film, and I'm very curious to see how it translates.  The book is written quite visually with many scenes described in such a way to lend themselves easily to filmed scenes.  You know I love my Christmas movies so I can't wait to see it on the big screen and eventually on my TV on DVD.  But if you're like me and impatient for the movie to come out, read the book Unholy Night.  You may find Balthazar's journey across the desert sands the best beach read of the summer.

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