I haven’t really mentioned it before on the site, because it’s not really something that makes sense for me to write about, but I love podcasts. My job can be very quiet and boring, a lot of busy work that needs something for me to entertain myself with. And I fill most of that time with podcasts. I check out a lot of different ones, from the standard bad movie mockery podcast, to some more intellectual ones from NPR or something that teach me something. But one type of podcast that I really love is more narrative kinds. It’s a pretty under-served genre of podcasts, but I really love hearing a serialized story told in this medium. It’s like listening to old radio dramas from the Golden Age of Radio. And hands down one of the best serialized narrative podcasts out there is Welcome to Night Vale. If you haven’t heard of Night Vale it’s one of the most clever concepts I’ve come across. It’s basically a local public radio news show, but for a fake town in the middle of the South-Western desert where every conspiracy in the world is real. It’s kind of like if every episode of the Twilight Zone took place in the same town, and it was all just accepted as normal. The podcast has a wonderful structure to it, all based around the anchor of the radio show, Cecil Palmer, telling us about the goings on in Night Vale, the weirdest town in the world. Sometimes he’s just going to tell us about the mysteries surrounding the off-limits dog park, sometimes it’s about the mysterious omnipotent glowing cloud, and once we heard about the mayoral race between the Faceless Old Woman who lives in your house and a five headed dragon named Hiram McDaniels, all with Cecil’s wonderful deadpan.
It’s a wonderful podcast with a very committed and loyal fanbase, myself included, so of course when they announced that the writers of the show were going to write a novel set in Night Vale, I was excited and ready to read it as soon as possible. And man is it a blast. But I’m not sure how well I can recommend it to people who don’t know the podcast. It certainly didn’t seem like a good jumping on point, and really required a bit of familiarity with the show to properly appreciate it. Now, I 100% recommend the podcast in general, and the book if you’re familiar with it, so dive on in.
I wasn’t sure what to expect about the book going in, and I was very pleasantly surprised that it’s pretty much the perfect example of what a Welcome to Night Vale book would be. I had kind of assumed that the book would follow Cecil Palmer, giving us some more background on his character, look at his romantic relationship with Carlos the Scientist, and just the inner-workings of the Night Vale Public Radio station. But it turned out that wasn’t the case at all. Yeah, Cecil makes some appearances, and every now and then there are brief chapters that are designed like his radio broadcasts where he fills us in on some of the things going on in the town that we’re not privy to, but the book is actually all about two different women and their quest to figure out just what the hell King City is. First we have Jackie Fierro, an eternally 19 year old who runs the local pawn shop. One day a man wearing a tan jacket that she can’t remember anything about as soon as she’s not looking at shows up and offers to sell her a piece of paper with the words KING CITY written on them. And as soon as she accepts it, he runs off into the desert, and she learns that the paper is now bonded to her, and no matter what she does, it always comes back to her hand. The other main character is Diane Crayton, a single mother who is trying her best to raise her shape-shifting teenage son. And then one day a co-worker of hers vanishes, and she realizes that she’s the only person in town who remembers him. She also starts seeing her ex, the father of her son Josh, appearing around town, seemingly everywhere. The plot takes the two characters all around the crazy town, letting us meet Old Woman Josie and her friends who are clearly angels but aren’t allowed to be acknowledged as such, the evil soul-sucking creatures called librarians, and Scientist Carlos who is studying some lawn flamingos that cause people to get transported through time and space when you touch them.
The two go around Night Vale separately at first, each trying to figure out their mysteries on their own. But eventually they end up running into each other too many times for it to be coincidence, and they being a begrudging partnership as they both realize that they’re both looking for the same thing. They eventually find that all of their answers lie in this mysterious King City, and they figure out that the only way to get out of Night Vale required them to use the crazy teleporting flamingos. And they finally make it to King City, a small town in California that used to be completely normal, until Diane’s ex Troy somehow got out of Night Vale and moved there. He started to ingratiate himself in the town, trying to become as helpful as possible, and then the weirdness of Night Vale started happening, and he started duplicating himself, until King City was over-run with helpful Troys. And at this point that was enough weirdness to turn King City into a crazy town like Night Vale, leading its mayor, the man in the tan jacket who gave Jackie the paper, to head to Night Vale and try to get rid of Troy. He accidentally messed up Jackie’s life and routine with the magic paper, and pulled the strings to get Diane to come, hoping that either her or her son would have the power to get Troy out of his town. And they do. It ends happily, with the citizens of Night Vale returning to their insane town so that King City can return to a state or boring normalcy.
This was a super fun book, albeit one that requires a bit of knowledge of the subject matter. I love Night Vale and it was amazing to get to see the town from a different perspective. The podcast is great, but we do only ever see the town from the eyes of the eternal optimist Cecil Palmer, who never really seems to think anything that is happening is odd, probably because he’s born and raised there and is used to it, so it’s nice to see how other characters actually see the city. True, Jackie and Diane are used to the nonsense of the city, but it’s still a lot of fun to see their points of view on the city. It’s a really fun novel that’s cleverly written, full of the patented Night Vale weirdness and wit, that perfectly encapsulates the wonderful oddness of the show while building the world even further. If you’re a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, definitely check it out, and if you’re not a fan, check out the podcast, because it’s awesome.
Welcome to Night Vale was written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and was released by Harper Perennial, 2015
Categories: Page Turners
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