Science, Faith, Giant Sand Creatures. Admit it, you’re intrigued.
It Devours! is the second instalment of the Welcome to Night Vale novel series – set after but not directly linked to Welcome to Night Vale, a Novel. Despite their standalone nature I would recommend reading them in order for the sake of continuity, as a few characters from the first novel do make an appearance in the second. Also, listen to the podcast. Aside from providing background information to the town and its myriad of strange and scary inhabitants, it’s also really really good.
Where Welcome To Night Vale showed us the constantly terrifying desert community from within through the eyes of locals who have grown up with government-mandated earthquakes, It Devours! follows Nilanjana, a scientist from the outside world who woke up one day knowing, somehow, that she had to study this town. We see her view of the world, and possibly her memories of it, shifting in nature the longer she stays in Night Vale – indicated through the acceptance that The Wizard of Oz ended in the fiery slaughter of Kansas, for one – but she still feels like an outsider. Or interloper, as the friendly local shouting and pointing reminds her every so often. This novel also, but not in such a way as to overshadow Nilanjana – explores one of the most beloved characters from the podcast series, perfect-haired Scientist Carlos. We’re used to seeing him through the eyes of Cecil the radio host who is biased in that he’s madly in love with him, so seeing perfect Carlos through the eyes of a coworker was amazing.
When people start going missing, it’s not that weird. Night Vale has a pretty high tolerance level for the unusual. Seriously, a giant bug appeared out of a house at one stage and the woman next door effectively went ‘Eh, it’ll sort itself out I’m sure’ and continued about her day like a stone cold badass. However, it seems like someone is interfering with the research of the scientists in town and when the disruptions, disappearances and teachings of a local religious group called the Congregation of the Smiling God line up, Nilanjana heads to the church on a recon mission. There, she meets Darryl whose faith in the Smiling God has its roots in how the church he follows has saved his life. Slowly but surely, Nilanjana begins to realise that science may not have all the answers within reach and Darryl faces the daunting realisation that his faith may revolve around something very, very dangerous. Between science and religion, there is no clear winner here. Individually, they fail to offer everything, perhaps together they offer more? Or perhaps not.
Side note: this story has romance. Do not, however, let that put you off if you’re not a fan. In traditional Night Vale manner, not everything goes according to plan and when it does it’s a pretty weird plan. With lots of paperwork. Honestly, the bit about the paperwork had be cackling like a lunatic and that’s all I will say on that. Go read it.
I love how Fink and Cranor write, and their cast of characters in this novel is fantastic. From Luisa – a scientist whose life work is being extremely disappointed in potatoes – to Jamillah – a congregant of the Smiling God who carries a drill at all times for reasons only she truly understands, It Devours! offers us a colourful cast who face down the mysterious happenings in the desert with a mixture of faith, fascination and the tired air of ‘here we go again’ that comes with watching the world nearly end perhaps three times a week on average. Night Vale is, if nothing else, extremely self-aware as a town regarding its own bizarreness. So people just kind of…get on with it. Armed with pesticides, lab coats, religious tomes and trays of milk and teeth.
This book is clever, from the first pages you think ‘Okay, I’ve seen the cover and the words “sand monster”, I know what’s happening here’ but you don’t, until that penny drops and BOY DOES IT DROP. The realisation of what was happening physically stressed me out, and I feel like when I reread the book in future this understanding will create an entirely new reading experience. I’m on board with that. Even reliving it now, I am stressed.
Overall I am a giant Night Vale nerd, and I loved this book. I would highly recommend listening to the podcast, as the book does reference some events that occurred therein, but the books are fully readable in and of themselves. If I had to pick an outright favourite from the series (so far), it would probably just be Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel, I have a soft spot for Diane and Jackie, but Luisa the potato scientist has offered me an entirely new career I didn’t know I wanted, so I’d definitely say read this one too!
Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5