By Sean Ray | a&e editor
Since its debut in 2012, “Welcome to Night Vale” has become one of the most popular podcasts in existence. Its concoction of humor, horror and drama catapulted it to success. So when it was announced that a novel based on the podcast would be published, fans went rabid. Appropriately enough, the book became the No. 2 best seller on Amazon seven months prior to its release when put up for pre-order.
However, the wait is finally over. “Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel” debuted last week, bringing with it the show’s colorful cast of characters and placing them in the hands of readers everywhere. The only question is: can the podcast’s success be translated onto the printed page?
The novel follows two characters: the perpetually-19 pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton, the single mother of a shape-shifting teen, both of whom have made appearances on the podcast. The book alternates between the two with each consecutive chapter and the occasional break in between that features a radio broadcast from Cecil Palmer, the protagonist of the podcast.
While the book maintains the weirdness of its source material, its themes and plot take on very real and sincere issues. For instance, Jackie finds her routine disrupted when a strange man in a tan leather jacket with a deer skin suitcase pawns her a very strange object; a slip of paper reading “KING CITY” that Jackie cannot seem to get rid of, no matter how many times she throws it away or burns it. Jackie soon becomes obsessed with getting rid of the paper and becomes determined to hunt down the man and return the slip. A task that would be easier if only anyone could remember any details about the mysterious man. At the same time, Jackie considers life as a person who never ages past 19, never having to truly grow up like those around her.
Meanwhile, Diane’s plot alternates with her attempts to connect with her shape-shifting son, Josh, and her attempts to discover why certain people are disappearing in her office job, with no one but her having any memory of the person ever existing. Oddly enough, the plot about disappearing employees takes a back seat to Diane’s relationship with Josh, with several chapters dedicated to the usual family struggles like driving lessons, teenaged dating and sudden appearances of ex-husbands.
Despite dealing with these surprisingly adult issues, the book remains incredibly funny and lighthearted, mixed with the usual supernaturalism that prevails through “Night Vale.” PTA announcements are made by the all-powerful Glow Cloud (ALL HAIL!), Jackie pays a visit to the Angels (which do not exist) and characters live in constant fear of the most awful creature that haunts Night Vale: the librarians.
The book is also quite accessible to readers unfamiliar with the Night Vale mythos. While a reference here or there might be missed, the book does not require much prior knowledge to comprehend. Once a reader accepts how strange the town is, it becomes quite easy to just go with the flow and learn not to question its absurdities and why there is a secret underground civilization beneath the bowling alley.
If there is any criticism to give, it’s that Jackie’s plot line seems much more interesting than Diane’s. Jackie travels across the town, visiting several iconic locations and meeting with recurring characters from the show. Meanwhile, Diane’s plot focuses on new locations and characters unfamiliar to “Night Vale” fans and occasionally feels more like a soap opera than anything else.
Another minor complaint regards the way the novel is written. The novel is told in a style that’s more suited to being read aloud than to oneself. Sentences contradict themselves and go on in a rambling fashion; I often found myself rereading a paragraph before finally understanding what it said.
Still, these problems do not detract much from the overall quality of “Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel.” The book is equal parts funny, horrific and touching, with a lot of spirit behind it – a definite recommendation for fans both new and old.