Page Turners

It Devours! And the Horror of Faith

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Two years ago I discussed a new novel based on the incredibly popular and fabulous podcast, Welcome to Night Vale. The titular novel was an extension of the podcast, featuring all new characters travelling around the wonderfully weird and conspiracy-filled town of Night Vale. I really loved the novel, and continue to love the podcast thoroughly. The podcast is presented as a public radio broadcast for the desert town of Night Vale, an insane community where every urban legend and conspiracy theory is real, and where the citizens are just used to it, and go about their daily lives. The first novel took two new characters, established Night Vale citizens, go on concurrent adventures and eventually dove-tailed into one over-arching story about a different town being infected by the weirdness of Night Vale, and trying desperately to solve it. It was a very fun novel, and added some new insight to the Night Vale world, giving us some different perspectives on the weirdness that the podcast kind of glides over. But there’s one thing I wish the novel had done that it didn’t do. Both protagonists of the first novel, while fun, were long-time Night Vale citizens, and I was kind of hoping for an outsider’s perspective of the insane town. However, lo and behold, we’ve been given the second novel in the Night Vale series, It Devours!, and they delivered on exactly that request. While also giving us what may actually be an even better book.

It Devours! tells the story of a scientist and recent Night Vale transplant, Nilanjana Sikdar. Nilanjana is one of the researchers who works with prominent Night Vale character Carlos, the husband of the podcast’s central figure, Cecil Palmer. She’s been tasked by Carlos to investigate some mysterious incidents that have been occurring out in the desert outside Night Vale, where massive holes have been opening up, even swallowing up the house of a man who lives out there. While Nilanjana is investigating these mysterious holes we also learn that Carlos has begun investigating a building in Night Vale that’s known as the House That Doesn’t Exist, a structure that has access to what appears to be a parallel dimension. However, the city does not seem to approve of Carlos’ experiments, and they claim that their complaints are centered around the word of a local religious group, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, a group who worship of a deity who they believe will one day arrive and devour the world, cleansing it of their sins. This cult had previously infiltrated Nigh Vale through the insidious company StrexCorp from rival town Desert Bluffs, but had been turned away. And, as luck would have it, Nilanjana has recently met a member of the Joyous Congregation, a man named Darryl who she has recently started dating.

Nilanjana begins investigating the Congregation, while trying not to let Darryl know that she and her fellow scientists think that his religion may be involved with these mysterious pits. Nilanjana and Carlos slowly begin to think that the town is behind the holes, and that they’re causing them to keep the scientists away from the House That Doesn’t Exist. Oh, and she also begins to think that the Congregation may be trying to summon the Smiling God to Night Vale so that it can destroy the town. Lots of stuff going on. So, working together, Darryl and Nilanjana begin trying to dismantle the various conspiracies and plots, confirming that the Joyous Congregation isn’t the organization of peace that Darryl thought it was. They’re actually trying to summon a giant centipede from the parallel dimension in the House That Doesn’t Exist to eat the town. Which isn’t ideal. But, they eventually succeed in defeating the Congregation, and even manage to kill the Smiling God when it’s summoned to Night Vale. But the pits don’t stop occurring, and more and more people are swallowed into apparent non-existence. Which is when we get the twist of the story. The ominous city of Night Vale isn’t behind these holes. The Joyous Congregation isn’t behind these holes. It’s Carlos. His experiments on the House That Doesn’t Exist, and his fixation with the building ever since being trapped inside the parallel dimension for what felt like years to him has been creating the holes. The parallel dimension is fighting back from the experiments, and it’s up to Nilanjana to convince Carlos that his fixation is destroying the town. But, she succeeds, and life in Night Vale returns to it’s normal level of insanity.

I really loved this book. When I read the first novel I was initially a little disappointed that the novel wouldn’t be focusing on the characters that I’d come to know and love on the podcast, primarily Cecil. But, I ended up really appreciating the insight given by the new characters, and that trend continues with this novel. And, by giving us Nilanjana as a protagonist, a character who wasn’t born in Night Vale and who is as confused by her surroundings as the average listener is a really fun idea. We’re given a whole new batch of well-rounded characters to explore the weird and wild world of Night Vale, and we really do get some fun new insights on the world that we’ve slowly been coming to know over the years. But I found one of the most interesting aspects of the novel, and the things that stuck with me the most, was the way that this novel tackled the idea of faith. Both of our new protagonists, Nilanjana and Darryl, are fully controlled by their senses of faith. Nilanjana in her faith of science and reason and Darryl in his faith of the Smiling God. They both begin the story with unshakable senses of faith, sure that their individual beliefs are the only true things in the world, and by the end of the novel they both come to terms with the fact that they need to be flexible. Darryl learns that blind faith leads to ruin, but that there’s still things that can be gained from a spiritual faith. And Nilanjana learns that cold hard facts aren’t always the answer, and that opening yourself up to new experiences and living her life. It’s not to say that faith is a bad thing, but it’s something that needs to be adaptable, something that you use as a strength, not a crutch. It’s a fascinating idea, and one that was examined pretty wonderfully in this novel. Which isn’t bad for a book about a giant centipede trying to eat a town full of weirdos.

 

It Devours! was written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and released by Harper Perennial, 2017.

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