116 – Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find ourselves…no matter where we live.

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

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.
Oh my god, I’d been looking forward to this release all season you guys. I thought FOR SURE this would be a slam dunk, NO WAY the Welcome to Night Vale novel would be anything but satisfactory. A GRAND, FIRE-WORKY finale to this season’s Spooktacular slog.

And then it was just kind of ok.

So, the thing about Night Vale as a podcast: I love it, obviously. It’s weird and fun and thoughtful and quirky and weird and sometimes creepy, but mostly it’s weird. That Night Vale style of nonsensical, nonsequitur, in-your-face quirky random storytelling is charming when it’s being delivered aurally in Cecil’s distinctive cadence for ~30 minutes twice a month. But four hundred and one straight pages of nonsensical nonsequitur quirky random storytelling? Please somebody kill me now.

I know, I know! “What did you expect? That’s literally Night Vale’s whole thing!” I know! It doesn’t bother me in the show, and I didn’t expect I’d have a problem with the book, but holy god I got like maybe four chapters in before I sat back and thought, “Wow, having to sort through all of that affected weirdness to get to the story is really annoying.”

It’s just, a lot of the weirdness doesn’t really have anything to do with furthering the plot. Sometimes I guess you could call it world-building – a bit redundant for Night Vale fans, but maybe helpful in establishing the status quo for people just coming in. I would still say that you could do all that while still making it relevant to what’s going on, but whatever.

But a lot of stuff is just…textual flavor? They’re little asides that have nothing to do with anything, recurring interruptions to the flow of the story, sometimes explicitly acknowledged as such, and I’m sitting there like “WELL IF IT DOESN’T MATTER THEN WHY DID YOU MAKE ME READ IT?”

It’s that affected quirk, you know? It’s too much all at once, like enjoying a cupcake every now and then, and then eating an entire cake expecting a similar experience. Some things are better in small doses. Apparently ~30 minutes twice a month is just the right amount of Night Vale for me.

In terms of plot, the book felt kind of needlessly drawn out. Jackie’s thread especially read more like a fan-servicey tour than an actual storyline as she went from Old Woman Josey to Carlos to Dana to John Peters to Steve Carlsberg for reasons that were often ill-defined. It took forever for either her or Diane’s plot to actually drum up any forward motion, and the first half or so of the book leveled off for me in terms of interest as it spun its wheels in a series of same-y wacky encounters. I actually got bored. With Night Vale.

Once Jackie and Diane’s storylines finally began to intersect, my interest did pick up again. The last half-to-quarter of the book was much more compelling, but goddamn did I never expect to be bored by a Night Vale novel.

While the ending itself was interesting in terms of character development and things-that-were-actually-happening, the explanation for King City, Troy, and the Man in the Tan Jacket was pretty bullshit. Night Vale bullshit, you know, in that Night Vale is just so casually weird that it’s apparently totally okay to resolve a mystery you’ve been building for four hundred pages by just shrugging and saying “Eh, Night Vale.” I guess it’s not entirely unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.

The strongest part of the novel, by far, were its characters. I liked both Jackie and Diane quite a bit. Individually and together, they were strong and flawed and complicated and tragic and relatable and well-developed. The arcs here were A+, far more interesting and satisfying in their resolutions than the actual plot, and maybe that was the point all along.

There were some nice moments scene to scene, certainly some darker ones than I imagined, and things that were creepy in concept, if not in execution (for me). The exploration of King City was interesting and tense, as was the library sequence. It’s the sort of thing I’d love to see on film, with audio and visual elements to add to the tension.

Anyway, the tl;dr is that this book wasn’t bad by any stretch. If you’re a fan, I’m sure you’ve already got the book and are reading it and are probably enjoying it and that’s great. If you’re not a fan and are considering buying it, I would say first, take like a half an hour out of your day to listen to the first episode of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, and then just imagine that for four hundred pages, keeping in mind the loud whimsy of the whole thing, and the tendency towards deus ex machina to overcome obstacles. If that all sounds tolerable to you, then, you know, welcome to Night Vale.


three stars

So that was this year’s Halloween Spooktacular! Nothing that knocked it completely out of the park, but some solid reads along the way. Hopefully we’ll have better luck next year!

Just a note that I’m going to be on hiatus for November, but will be coming back in December with a month – that’s right, an entire goddamn MONTH – of House of Night. Four weeks, four books, god help us all.


10 Responses

  1. ZeldaQueen

    November 8, 2015 3:34 am, Reply

    I wish you the best of luck with House of Night. I’ve been sporking my way through it and I honest to God have not read more than three or four books into the franchise, because I am not CAPABLE of handling that much bullshit. And keep in mind, I have read my way through Breaking Dawn, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, the entire Hush, Hush series, and The Legend of Rah and the Muggles, all without a hitch.

    (Well, the second Hush, Hush book did have a moment so monumentally horrible and dumb that I seriously hit my head against the book. In the public library. Still, I read through it after I took a break.)

    So, yeah. I’m trying to re-spork the first novel with someone and we’re held up on the third chapter, just trying to explain all the sheer wrongness and stupidity in the world-building alone. AND IT ONLY GETS WORSE.

    So yeah, I’ll be happily following along with this. Good luck!

    • ZeldaQueen

      November 14, 2015 5:50 am, Reply

      Oh, I apologize for dropping in again, but going off of my research (that is to say, TV Tropes), I read something that will make the House of Night “mythology” make a lot more sense – it’s Wiccan. The Cast ladies wrote Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology (with a dash of Biblical lore and Native American folklore) and did so trying to fit it into a Wiccan belief system. That’s why they insist that Nyx is all those other goddesses, that’s why she randomly has a son (even though one would think a matriarchal society would say their goddess has a daughter), and that’s why all the rituals are Wiccan.

      • Cyna Cyna

        November 17, 2015 4:27 pm, Reply

        Yep, that’s one of the things I remember finding borderline interesting-annoying about it back in The Day – it took two different branches of paranormal romance – the witch and the vampire – and mushed them into one. It was like, huh that’s interesting but dude WHY DO THESE VAMPIRES HAVE WITCH POWERS? WHY DO THESE WITCHES HAVE FANGS? PICK ONEEEEEEEE.

        In retrospect it just seems kinda like trend-hopping. “Well I’m gonna have SPELLCASTING VAMPIRES, HAHAHAH!” Or maybe a proto Landry-Park-esque mashup?

        • ZeldaQueen

          November 28, 2015 1:14 am, Reply

          Honestly? I think it’s mostly author appeal. Because I’ve been reading through her Parthelon books (which are horrible in an entirely different way and have just as obvious a self-insert Mary Sue lead) and there are a LOT of similarities to the same practices there as well. It’s not quite as overt, but enough so that it’s noticable.

          Given that the first book says their agent suggested that they write a series about a vampire boarding school (because y’know, Harry Potter and Twilight were Things), my guess is that they were more interested in the magic and the rituals and the ~~mystic~~ allure of Wiccan/Neo-paganism/various polytheistic religions and tacked vampirism on as an afterthought. Because really, they come across as vampires even less than Stephenie Meyer’s did. At least Edward reminded us once in awhile that vampires killed things for their blood. I honestly forget most of the time that the House of Night series is supposed to actually have vampires in t.

          • Cyna Cyna

            December 10, 2015 11:09 pm,

            Ah yeah, I read one of those two YA Parthelon books and I remember the magic casting being basically copy+paste. I wasn’t sure if it was just a case of “Well, I know how to write this thing so I guess we’ll just do this again” or what.

  2. ZeldaQueen

    December 13, 2015 10:36 pm, Reply

    Oh, there aren’t only two Parthelon books. There’s three in the main “Divine by” series and the two I think you’re thinking of (including the one you reviewed) is one of the side stories. I’ve read through the first and want to kill Shannon (the Sue self-insert) and the rest of the people in that world, if only so their little Suetopia will have some conflict in it.

    …I have strong feelings about the book. I apologize.

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