The year is 2 BC. Balthazar is a thief and not just any thief, but the infamous Antioch Ghost. A thief that has been running rings round the Romans for years and they really want to catch him. Meanwhile, a young expectant couple are headed to Bethlehem…you know where this is going. So how does Balthazar end up one of the three wise men?

Unholy Night is a bloody and violent alternative Christmas story. To be fair, the whole nativity story is pretty dark even if you don’t meddle with it. There’s a mad king killing babies! The Romans weren’t known for their kindness either and I think this book paints a quite realistic portrait of Judea at the time (some might argue things haven’t improved much since). There’s a thread of dark humour throughout but it’s not overtly funny; I especially liked it when Mary and Joseph go to view some religious monument and they feel a bit let down by the whole experience (think tourist trap).

There will always be some people offended by such works but, in all honesty, it’s not very blasphemous. Joseph might have his doubts at first but both him, Mary and Jesus are pretty much left alone. Mary is perhaps a little more fiery than expected but that makes her real; there are soldiers trying to kill her baby, for god’s sake (literally)! It’s a wonderful irony to have the atheist Balthazar rescuing Jesus, but deep down he is a good man no matter what he believes in (despite the stealing).

Some of the character development was a little flat but I enjoyed Balthazar’s back story. It’s much more about him than the nativity really. Herod is a fantastically evil and repulsive character and there’s a wonderful emperor’s new clothes style storyline. Recommended reading for those overdosed on saccharine festive fare!

Unholy Night is the latest novel from Seth Grahame-Smith, the man better known for bringing you Pride & Prejudice & Zombes and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Published in hardback and ebook formats by Bantam Press, it is available to buy now. Thansk go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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