Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel - Review

Hello, readers.

This is a review about a book that a reviewer read. It may have been a book that you yourself have read. It may have been a book that you yourself have not read. It may have been a book designed to bring about the destruction of the known universe simply through the mere fact of its existence. It is sometimes hard to know these things.

Whatever the book may be, you should know that the review of this book will contain NO SPOILERS, the declaration of which is capitalised because it is Important. Things that are Important are always capitalised, except for the word capitalised itself, which is not capitalised, even though it is Important. Have you ever noticed that?

And now, a word from our reviewer.

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I'll be upfront straight away: Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is, I feel, more of a book for fans of the long-running podcast than anything else. It's not entirely inaccessible for those who haven't heard it, but it'll be tough going for most; the amount of call-backs and nods to the series is fairly profuse. Even though it's been touted as a book for either crowd, writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have leaned more in the direction of the die-hards than the yet-to-be-initiateds. Or maybe, given their recommendation at the book's end that you now go listen to the podcast they've spent 3 years making, I'm misinterpreting.

In either case, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is simultaneously an excellent and slightly flawed glimpse into the titular town. But we'll get to that.

For those new to the game, Night Vale is a desert town where really weird stuff goes on. This is the sort of place the likes of Burroughs, Lovecraft and Giger might've gone to for their summer holidays, except they'd probably get eaten by otherworldly creatures or kidnapped by government helicopters on the way there. Life in Night Vale is surreal, yet the populace have adapted admirably. They're so used to it all, they're not exactly fazed when hooded figures roam around their local dog park, nor when a faceless old woman who secretly lives in their homes sends them emails at their workplaces with fashion tips from the time she's spent in their wardrobes that day. It's all, y'know, normal town stuff.

Two of Night Vale's residents, though, are experiencing things that are decidedly not normal, even for Night Vale. Jackie Fierro, owner of the local pawnshop, and Diane Crayton, PTA member and mother to a shapeshifting teenager, are both drawn into a mystery involving someplace called King City. No-one seems to remember where it is or even if it exists, except for a strange man in a tan jacket who might hold the answer. With little but their wits, a maroon Ford hatchback and a piece of paper that just won't go away, Jackie and Diane will need to work together if they've any hope of finding King City, and the answers that lie there.

On paper (no pun intended), this sounds like an extended episode of the Night Vale podcast. The book contains written interludes where Cecil, the podcast's radio host and narrator, interrupts and pontificates in a similar fashion to how he runs the show. Even without those, the book reads as if it were written solely for Cecil to narrate for the audiobook - which is the main problem I have with the text version.

Despite the fact that, ultimately, I loved the book, it's fairly evident it was scripted with Cecil's dulcet narration in mind. That's not entirely a bad thing - Cecil Baldwin has an amazing voice, and he's a big reason why the podcast is so successful - but it occasionally makes it harder to follow the story when the way it's written doesn't work well in text rather than audio. The podcast tends to meander through random thoughts and metaphysical tangents, written in a surreal, abstract manner in passages. That's fine to listen to for half an hour in an episode, but can get tedious in a 400-page book, especially when the plot, as it is here, operates on a slow boil until the halfway point.

But like I said, ultimately I loved the book. Part of what I've always found endearing about Night Vale is its inherent weirdness, and having it described the way Fink and Cranor do in the novel adds and works differently to how Cecil's pipes usually paint the picture. Several places we've never really been to in the podcast - particularly the oft-mentioned gothic horror that is the Night Vale Public Library - are visited in all their glorious weirdness, which greatly expands the world some of us have come to inhabit for 76 (and counting) episodes.


On that last point, as mentioned at the top, this may not a book for the uninitiated. It's not just because of the number of in-jokes Fink and Cranor include throughout, but the book also sidesteps one of the best qualities of the podcast: the evolution of style. Welcome to Night Vale began as a spooky, Lovecraftian horror series about a town that almost seemed to inhabit the Bermuda triangle and Schrödinger's box all at once, slowly evolving over time into the more quirky, welcoming-but-also-terrifying setting we've come to know and love. I feel the podcast's early going took us as listeners along with it as its style evolved. Without that evolutionary journey, the book lacks a couple of steps in getting newbies acclimated to the way Night Vale does business. This is the kind of getting used to that needs more of a slow dip in the bath rather than a quick sprint through the shower because you woke up late that morning, and if you don't get to work the velociraptors from next door will break down your front door again.

In spite of the above, and the occasionally wandering tone of some of the tangent bits, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel successfully adapts one of the podcast world's best creations into the literary sphere. I'd suggest those yet to experience the weirdness that is the little town of Night Vale maybe hear a bit of the podcast first before diving into Fink and Cranor's labour of love. For everyone else, Night Vale's loyal listeners will definitely find a rewarding experience.

Or they'll get unstuck in time thanks to a bunch of lawn flamingos. Y'know, whichever.

- Chris

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This has been a word from our reviewer. I hope that was in some way informative to you, and that it enriched your existence in a manner in which it was not enriched prior to your reading of it.

Stay tuned now for a review score, followed by information pertaining to the release of the book for which you've just read the review. After that, who knows? I certainly don't. Do you? No, I didn't think so.

What I do know is that there's a spider demon that's knocking on my office window again, and he's asking for change for the parking meter.  Looks like I might have to go and sort that out.

Until the next time that your eyes and my words are temporarily engaged with one another, good night, Geek of Oz.

Good night.

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Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is available in bookstores now.
All episodes of the podcast can be found at Welcome to Night Vale.

Review copy supplied to Geek of Oz by Hachette Australia.