Grahame-Smith, Seth. Unholy Night.

NY: Grand Central, 2012.

This author is also responsible for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I frankly wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up the book. But the flap copy got my attention. It’s sort of a “what if” story. What if the Three Magi weren’t the “wise men” we know from the Christmas pageants?

Suppose Balthazar was really a large sword-wielding thief known throughout the Eastern Empire as “The Antioch Ghost”? That’s the premise, but it’s only the beginning. Gaspar and Melchyor are also thieves, the latter being the most skilled swordsman alive, and they all come together as the result of a ruse to escape from Herod’s Jerusalem prison and avoid losing their heads to the executioner. They and their hijacked camels are hiding out in a stable nearby Bethlehem when they bump into a young carpenter and his fifteen-year-old wife who has just given birth, and then Herod’s troops show up to murder newborn males — and even a bloody-minded type like Balthazar can’t deal with that. And he has his own personal reasons, going back to his own childhood. From there, it’s one chase scene after another — literally — as the party heads for Egypt, pursued by Roman troops under the command of an ambitious young officer named Pontius Pilate.

So the first chunk of the book is kind of a hoot, riffing on Biblical traditions, with the author interpreting things in his own way — but then he starts bringing in fantasy and Christian supernaturalism and it all turns into predestinational preaching. And, in my heathen opinion, the story pretty much goes to pot. He had the opportunity here to offend large numbers of people by making fun of their ridiculous beliefs, but he apparently chickened out. The writing style is pretty good and the action is quite well handled (he has a lot of television experience), but the underlying plot eventually had me shaking my head in annoyance.

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