mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale."
Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast that takes the form of community radio news broadcasts detailing the strange events that take place in a unique little town where time doesn't work, the dog park is forbidden, and angels definitely do not exist (but spend a lot of time hanging out with Old Woman Josie anyway). Several of us on staff are fans, so when we learned about the Welcome to Night Vale novel to be published later this month, we just had to read it. And we did!
Read on for our group review of the novel. Then be sure to put it on hold in print or audio format (the latter narrated by Cecil Baldwin, Voice of Night Vale, himself).
I fell for Welcome to Night Vale late, but I fell really, really hard. I started listening early this year, cramming three years of podcast episodes into a few months, buying a ticket for the live show, and generally losing my mind and having a lot of fun in the process. So of course, when I discovered that a Welcome to Night Vale novel was in the works, I wasted no time begging the publisher for an advance copy.
Did it live up to my expectations? Actually, it didn’t… But that’s sort of why I liked it so much. While I certainly would have enjoyed a book that explored more of Cecil’s backstory (for instance, how freaking old is he?!) and featured plenty of fluffy romance with Carlos, I love the way Fink and Cranor instead use the novel to tell the stories of minor characters, to answer questions that listeners have been asking since the early episodes, and to expand on the Night Vale mythos.
Don’t worry, though: Familiar references and cameos from fan favorites abound, punctuated by Night Vale Community Radio broadcasts. The novel takes us to new territory, but it does so without sacrificing the signature eerie sense of place that makes the podcast so appealing. I think fans will enjoy getting to explore more of our beloved, friendly desert community, while for others the novel will be an intriguing first contact with a rich and unique fandom.
Based on the hit podcast, this book takes place in a small desert town like any other. It’s the sort of friendly small town where neighbors always say hello, the local radio host keeps listeners updated on town events and his boyfriend’s perfect, perfect hair, and everyone is under constant surveillance by the Sheriff’s Secret Police. Fans of the podcast should enjoy the book (try the audiobook if you just can’t live without Cecil’s dulcet tones), and newcomers should enjoy it as well, since it is a self contained story.
The book follows the story of two women: Jackie Fiero, who runs the pawnshop and just hasn’t gotten around to turning twenty yet (so stop getting on her case about it), and Diane Crayton, PTA member and mother to the ever shape-shifting high schooler Josh. Papers bearing the cryptic message ‘KING CITY’ are appearing, Josh is asking uncomfortable questions about his father, and someone should really do something about all those plastic lawn flamingos. Jackie suspects the man in the tan jacket has something to do with it all, but no one can quite remember what he looks like.
Only the bravest citizens of Night Vale ever venture into the library - because they all know what horrible and gruesome creatures the librarians are. But how else will you get a copy of this book? Sure, bookstores and online stores exist, but you live on the edge, don’t you? Like Summer Reading Survivor and teenage warrior Tamika Flynn, you’re just the sort of brave soul who goes to libraries and lives to tell the tale. So put your copy on hold and visit us - if you dare.
I will admit to being a bad Night Vale fan. I got distracted by life and stopped listening to the podcast. I know, I’m terrible. But I started back up! And I listened from the beginning. But then I got distracted again. I left off in the middle of year 2 (both times). So even though I love Night Vale, I’m way behind. Having said that, I didn’t feel lost. The book did an excellent job of explaining things and it fleshed out these minor characters well enough that it made me care about them.
My favorite parts of the book were the library (because how can you not love hearing about the Night Vale Public Library?) and Cecil’s broadcasts between chapters. The broadcasts were a great way to find out what else was going on in Night Vale while the book’s main characters were doing their thing. I felt bad for the intern though.
I only got interested in Night Vale in the first place because cool people I work with - all of you in this post, pretty much - would reference and talk about it. And wear shirts. I saw some Night Vale shirts around, too. It was one of those things I kept putting off right up until the point that the ARC started floating around Linebaugh courtesy of one of our favorite patrons. Since it was something I was already ramping up to being interested in, I decided to do it right, and listen to it before I read it.
Once I had dipped my toes, I verified that I would have relatively spoiler-free existence (again, courtesy of all of you), I started in on the book. I found it slow going at first, but perfectly replicating the dreamlike quality of the show, at least as I had experienced it up to that point. Once I throttled down into the alpha wave state created by the narrative, I was locked in. I liked that the main characters of the show were tangents to the book, and vice versa, and that the level of plot ambiguity in the face of a mountain (not verified to exist) of other details, was astounding. To give that much detail about a thing while not defining it outright is really an achievement. Night Vale becomes a deeper, richer, more interesting place when you read this, like looking at a map after imagining spatial relationships, or meeting someone you’ve only heard about.
I recommend the book, but I also recommend a set of circumstances to go around it. It should ideally be read in a quiet place that will make you feel comfortable but isolated. Your beverage should be bracing, and your hours unfilled and untroubled with anything other than reading.
A few months ago I began working with the lovely people you see in this post. It became apparent that Welcome to Night Vale was a fandom I needed to be a part of. So I listened. After one episode two things happened: 1) I realized this weird twisted sense of humor was exactly what I needed. 2) Why are librarians always villainous (shrug)? I obviously dove into this podcast head first! Within 5 quick months I listened up to episode 41, booked a trip to Svitz, AND picked up our library's advance copy of the book.
The story has been slow moving for me. I have enjoyed it but it is something I have to process and digest bit by bit. It is much like the show in its other-worldly/dreamlike nature. There are new characters and cameo appearances from regulars of the show. I am of the opinion that the book is quite an impressive piece. Why? Well, it takes great skill to write something that can function as two separate things. This story does just that. It provides back story on existing characters providing more of an addition for fans of the podcast. It also functions as a great stand alone book, which will (most definitely) lead to more listeners in the near future. I recommend this to anyone with a passion for science fiction, a dark sense of humor, dog parks, and deerskin suitcases! Happy reading Nigh Vale!