Welcome to Night Vale is a biweekly podcast presented in the form of a local community radio show, hosted by Cecil Baldwin, for the town of Night Vale, which reports on the strange events that are common in the town: hooded figures roaming the town, statements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, a Dog Park that by law nobody is allowed to enter, a literal five-headed dragon running for mayor. The podcast is one of the most popular, successful and well-known on the internet, with a huge, loyal fanbase so it was unsurprising that the writers announced a novel, especially given how well-written, and at times, novel-like, the podcast is.
So, first things first – do you have to have listened to the podcast to read this novel? The short answer is no. The book manages the trick of being both a self-contained story with new characters that can be read by anyone and something that is spun out of existing threads of the show too, mostly prominently the ominous and recurring character of The Man in the Tan Jacket, who is *finally* explained here.
This book is the story of two women, told mostly in alternating chapters – a style which works very well.
Jackie Fierro owns the town’s pawn shop, and she is nineteen. The only problem is is that she’s been nineteen for what feels like decades and almost can never remember being anything but nineteen. She is given a slip of paper by The Man in the Tan Jacket which has the phrase “King City” on it and no matter how hard she tries to remove or destroy it, it will not leave her hand.
Diane Crayton, Treasurer of the PTA, is trying her best to be a good parent to her moody teenage son Josh, who is also a shapeshifter. Josh’s father has returned to town and Diane keeps seeing him everywhere.
The stories inevitably collide, and then centre on the mystery of King City. What struck me the most about this book is how wonderfully expansive Night Vale feels in a novel format – perfectly suited. Also, these two men have a wonderful knack to writing women, and character in general. Despite the weirdness of the town, you are with them completely and rooting for them the whole way. I also found this novel unexpectedly moving and touching a number of times.
Linking it to the podcast, and serving as a way to both comment on the story of Diane and Jackie, and also bring in another perspective and characters from the podcast, transcripts of Cecil’s radio show are interspersed throughout the book. Interestingly enough – and I mean this as a form of compliment – you could almost do without them, so strong were the characters of Diane and Jackie, but I was still glad they were there.
In summary, if you like your fiction a little unusual, and are looking for something a little different, I recommend giving this a try. Underneath all of its oddity, Welcome to Night Vale, the novel is a book with a big, beating human heart, that like all of is, is just looking to be understood.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.