Review of Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-SmithUnholy Night
By Seth Grahame-Smith; Read by Peter Nerkot
10 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Mythology / Occult / Christianity / Bible /

“Joseph? Mary? My name is Balthazar. This is Gaspar . . . this is Melchyor. We don’t want to hurt you . . . we’re just looking for a place to rest. But, Joseph? if you don’t put that pitchfork down, I’m going to take it from you and stab you to death in front of your wife and child. Do you understand?”

Wanted thieves Balthazar, Melchyor, and Gaspar, disguised as wise men, show up at a little manger in Bethlehem with a huge star blazing overhead, looking for a hideout from the law. But when Herod’s soldiers begin slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem, Balthazar takes the safety of the Holy Family into his own hands. As fugitives on the run to Egypt, they must escape not only Roman soldiers but creatures of mythology and the occult. Everyone’s either gunning for the Antioch Ghost with a price on his head or the innocent newborn who has such an unearthly effect on those around him.

Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) finally stops inserting his words into other people’s writing and writes a book in his own words. And a fine job he does of it too. For a violent, gore-filled, action-thriller there are a surprising number of very human characters, many of whom we are meant to recognize.

Pontius Pilate appears as an ambitious young officer ambivalent about truth. Mary and Joseph struggle with how to reconcile the truth of Jesus as God with the reality of a baby who must be fed, loved, and parented. Above all, this is Balthazar’s story, who has a complex story-line driving his actions and attitudes. We learn how he became the cynical Antioch Ghost and we wonder if he will find a more worthy goal than vengeance.

Above all, I was surprised to find myself eventually thinking of Unholy Night as modern midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations with are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

Grahame-Smith lives up to the midrash ideal by both being respectful to his source material and also using his vivid imagination on a Biblical event that is wide-open to interpretation, Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt with the Christ child. Among other things, the author is very good at opening new views on familiar subjects, such as just how horrible King Herod was. It brings to life the terrible things he did very much as I have read them in history books. One also gets a deeper understanding of the locals’ simmering, resentful hatred of the Roman empire.

Narrator Peter Berkrot is a reader I haven’t come across before but will be seeking out in the future. He conveys just the right amount of cynicism as Balthazar, menace and insanity as Herod, and innocence as Mary. I am not sure how this book comes across in print but I’d listen to it again in a heartbeat thanks to Berkrot’s narration.

Grahame-Smith has delivered a story of Biblical proportions in Unholy Night: zombies, swarms of locusts, epic sword fights, outlaws, obsessed rulers, vengeance, redemption, and more are in this entertaining action tale. That he did it all while staying true to original material that can be unpopular reading these days makes him a writer I am going to seek out in the future. Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Aural Noir Review of Dimiter by William Peter Blatty

Aural Noir: Review

Audiobook - Dimiter by William Peter BlattyDimiter
By William Peter Blatty; Read by William Peter Blatty
8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Thriller / Religion / Christianity / Espionage /

In 1973 a nameless prisoner is being tortured in an Albanian prison, where “grace and hope had never touched.” Colonel Vlora, known as “The Interrogator,” is frustrated and mystified by a man they have come to call The Prisoner because they cannot even make him speak. Is he an American spy, Paul Dimiter, known as the “agent from hell?” The solution to this stalemate while expected on one level is a complete surprise on another. This turns out to be emblematic of William Blatty’s book. Part 1 is an appropriate foretaste of this complex, suspenseful, and fast paced thriller.

The scene shifts to Jerusalem where we meet Moses Mayo, a neurologist, who is investigating a series of seemingly natural deaths that are nevertheless linked. He also is plagued by a gruesome murder, reports of apparitions and mysterious miraculous healings. We also meet Mayo’s life-long friend, Peter Meral, an Arab Christian, who is a police detective. Among other things, Meral is investigating a strange car explosion and the mysterious disappearance of the men involved, a CIA cover-up, and a body found at the Tomb of Christ.

The body count climbs and complications arise from the interweaving of all the events. This sounds somewhat like a standard thriller, however, it is anything but. We know the deaths are real but what about the reported miracles? Is everything really connected and, if so, what could possibly be the logical link? The solution is not only surprising but also provides an extremely moving moment of redemption.

Dimiter‘s suspense keeps the listener fascinated while also raising it above the ordinary by not being afraid to have characters who care about spiritual searching, loss, redemption, and love. The spiritual element will make this work especially interesting to those who are drawn to themes that investigate good versus evil. This is not an element that should surprise those who remember that Blatty is the author of the justly famous horror novel The Exorcist. Although this novel is strictly in the thriller vein, I must admit that I did find the torture scenes rather horrific and did fast forward through a few of them.

The author narrates his work and does such an effective job that I often forgot I was not listening to a professional voice talent. The only downfall was that during fast-paced scenes with more than two male characters, such as CIA interrogations, there was not enough differentiation between all the voices to make it easy to tell when dialogue shifted from one person to another. This was not a huge problem but it did require me to back up a couple of times until I figured out the tempo. Otherwise, William Blatty’s reading was a sheer pleasure, especially in voicing his more eccentric characters who he brought to life in a most vivid fashion.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Pilgrim’s Progress Audio Drama

SFFaudio Review

TITLEPilgrim’s Progress: Similitude of a Dream
Audio Drama by Spirit Blade Productions
Publisher: Spirit Blade Productions
Published: 2009
Themes: / Fantasy / Allegory / Christianity /

Frankly The Pilgrim’s Progress is not a book I ever imagined that I’d be reading, much less excited to tell anyone about. That was before I’d heard Spirit Blade’s version which reimagines The Pilgrim’s Progress as a dynamic audio drama complete with dragons, elves, and a mystical book of truth.

Spirit Blade Productions has pulled off a masterpiece here. The original allegorical story has been refashioned featuring a full-cast, orchestral score, and complete sound effects to urge our imaginations on a quest with Christopher Pilgrim for truth. Waking after a nightmare of death and destruction, Christopher determines to find his way to the legendary Mystic City, looking for a cure that will avert disaster. Along the way he encounters others who have all sorts of advice for his journey, some helpful and some disastrous. Christopher must discern which actions will lead to success.

This audio drama captured my attention so thoroughly that I found myself wondering exactly how much was modern imagination and how much was originally in the book. This is exactly what the audio drama producers intended so they made it easy to check by including the corresponding part of the original book, also recorded with sound effects and a musical score. I was completely surprised to find how the original text captured my imagination and was thought provoking about my own life even as I enjoyed the story.

Spirit Blade’s reason for existence is “to present the uncompromised truths of Biblical scripture in unique formats that will provoke thought and appeal to fans of creative music and imaginative fiction.” I can attest that with this presentation of part one of Pilgrim’s Progress they have done just that. I found myself immediately recommending the audio drama to a friend whose 6th grade brother has outpaced the reading resources available. Designed for 12 years and up, this production will capture the attention of readers of all ages who may never have heard of The Pilgrim’s Progress but will be interested in Christopher Pilgrim’s adventure.

At $4.99 to download the first one-hour episode as well as the half-hour audiobook reading, this seems like a great deal to me. Right now you can also buy one and “gift” one free which makes it an even better deal.

It is always a pleasure to “discover” a classic book that one wishes to share and I must thank Spirit Blade Productions for giving me the review opportunity. I am going to be looking forward to future episodes in the series that shows us what sort of progress Christopher Pilgrim makes.

Highly recommended.

Download Trailer here…

Posted by Julie D.