Welcome to Night Vale is first and foremost a podcast. Like The Red Panda, it’s a fictional drama, but with a really unique twist. It follows the format of a small-town, community radio show – but set in the weirdest town you could possibly imagine.
Night Vale is a small, sleepy desert town, presumably in the US. They have a bowling alley, an Arby’s, and creepy hooded figures that lurk in the dog park. Have I mentioned that no one is actually allowed in the dog park? Strange things happen all the time in Night Vale, and the residents consider it to be completely normal. Radio station management is a roaring beast? Meh, ok. A glow cloud arrives in town, starts throwing dead animals at the populace and then eventually joins the school council? Welcome – and ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD!
The radio host is a honey-voiced local named Cecil (played by an actor of the same name). He’s as oblivious as the rest of the residents, and is cheerfully obtuse at the weirdest times. Each episode follows a repetitive format: news, community calendar/local ads/etc, the report of an unusual event, leading up to a conflict… and then, the weather.
The weather report is always a song, written and performed by a different indy artist for each episode. Once the weather wraps up, the conflict has been resolved, and Cecil closes out the show with a thought provoking statement or two. New episodes can be downloaded on the 1st and 15th of each month, on iTunes or many other podcast platforms.
As I’m sure you’ve already guessed – I’m a big fan. I’ve binge-listened to all of the episodes, bought a hoodie and a mug from their store, and saw them live during their last tour. Obsessed? Maybe, but I’m ok with that. But the title of this post mentions a book review… Which is lucky, since Welcome to Night Vale is now a book!
The book obviously breaks from the usual radio format, but still follows characters originally established in the podcast.
Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “King City” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.
Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.
Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: “King City”. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures…if they can ever find it. – Goodreads
Apologies for the long quote, but I don’t think there really is a way to describe the plot any more succinctly than that. It’s weird. It’s Night Vale. I bought the book as soon as it came out, and cracked it open immediately. And then… I struggled to finish it. I could see Fink and Cranor attempting to bring the weirdness of Night Vale into the novel format, but it seems to fall a bit flat. Repetitive statements, odd turns of phrase – while sounding perfectly reasonable in the podcast, felt very drawn out and out of place in the book.
Being so used to hearing Cecil describe the local drama, I thought maybe listening to the audio book would make a difference. The audio book is read by Cecil, and features passages read by Carlos as well, another beloved character in the podcast. And I was right – it did improve in that format.
But not all is lost – Fink and Cranor are coming out with two new books in the fall. This time, they will be actual, illustrated scripts from the first two seasons. I’m guessing that I’ll enjoy those a lot more.
Welome to Night Vale the book is available everywhere – just be sure to start with the podcast first.