Nightvale is, in many ways, like many places. It has a City Hall, a diner, a pawn shop, a school. In other ways it is not like many places at all. It has an unusually high death toll, for one, city hall sits shrouded in velvet at night, the diner serves invisible pie, the pawn shop is run by a nineteen year old who has been nineteen for years, and there’s a cloud on the school board.
Welcome To Night Vale is the novel based off the titular podcast, of which I am a long-term fan. I’ve been to see the live shows several times, and before one of those shows I found myself sitting between my best friend and my fiancée, about five feet away from the cast of the show, in Nando’s.
But that is a story for another time.
This story is about two women, pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro and PTA mother Diane Crayton, living in this strange desert town where thinking about the dog park is a crime. Jackie has been nineteen for as long as she can remember, and Diane’s son Josh keeps changing shape and size, sometimes he has wings. This is all normal to them. The novel follows both of these women as they seek to find answers, their paths overlapping and merging together as they discover that what they are looking for may actually be the same thing.
Fink and Cranor are tremendous storytellers. In both podcast and book format, Night Vale is one of my favourite things. The podcast is something I would highly recommend, it’s free after all and it’s wonderful, and the voice of Night Vale is the single most soothing voice you will ever encounter. But enough about the podcast, you are here for book reviews and book reviews I shall provide.
As hilarious as it is terrifying, Welcome To Night Vale is a bizarre and compelling read. Jackie’s seemingly eternal routine is thrown off kilter by a man she cannot remember, and two words she cannot forget: King City. Diane, a single mother of a typically rebellious teen who not so typically shifts forms every so often, finds herself battling Josh’s insistence on knowing more about his absentee father with her own insistence that he’d be better off not knowing anything about him. But Troy is back in town, and he’s quite literally everywhere. The story is interspersed with snippets of the local radio show, populating this strange town with even stranger news stories to do with time-altering lawn ornaments, angels that are absolutely not real, and reminding all who listen that they are under constant invasive surveillance for their own safety and wellbeing.
Seeing this town through the eyes of people for whom this is total normalcy is fantastic, and also extremely scary. In a town where you are imprisoned for voting incorrectly, the city council will probably try to eat you if you bring up a complaint, and your coworker has disappeared but you seem to be the only one who can remember them, where do you turn to for help?
Amidst all the weirdness, however, this is a book about bringing up a child in a world that frightens you, about having to grow up eventually even if you don’t know how, and about how deadbeat dads are often intolerable assholes. It can be an incredibly moving story, and Diane and Jackie are wonderfully fleshed-out characters each with their own flaws and strengths, their own motivations and – even once their paths merge – their own agendas and outcomes from the events of the novel. Being a teenager is scary, being an adult is scary, being literally anything in Night Vale is terrifying.
This book has something for pretty much everyone, horror, humour, tension and twists, hooded figures, mysteries, a healthy dose of diversity and spectacular world-building that somehow situates all of this in our world. I cannot recommend it highly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have now read it twice – no doubt I’ll read it again in future, it’s that good. Just be prepared for an existential crisis, after all, time is a human construct and thus does not exist. Also maybe avoid lawn flamingos just in case.
Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5