I’ve been a fan of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for a while (although I’m woefully behind at the moment), so I was very excited when this book was first announced. I’ve owned it in two different formats since it first came out in 2015, but I kept putting off reading it because I couldn’t decide which format to start with, audio or paper. I finally settled on audio, figuring that something that started as a podcast would be better that way. Now that I’ve finished it, I feel like I made the right decision.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel stars Jackie Fierro, a nineteen-year-old pawn shop owner, and Diane Crayton, a single mom with a shapeshifting teenage son named Josh. As far as Jackie knows, she’s been nineteen forever and has owned her pawn shop forever. She doesn’t really think too hard about any of that until a strange customer, the Man in the Tan Jacket, comes in and gives her a slip of paper she literally can’t put down. Whenever she tries to get rid of it, it ends up right back in her hand. All it says is “King City.” Even worse, Jackie suddenly can’t write anything except “King City,” making it impossible for her to do her job.
Meanwhile, Diane’s life seems perfectly normal until one of her coworkers disappears. No one but her even remembers he existed, and it’s a mystery she can’t bring herself to leave alone. Her situation is further complicated by her son’s sudden desire to talk to his father. Diane would rather never talk about Josh’s father. Unfortunately, she keeps seeing him everywhere she goes. It gradually becomes apparent that the solution to both Jackie and Diane’s problems lies in the mysterious and possibly unreachable King City.
I vaguely recall one of the announcements about this book stating that it was written to be Night Vale newbie-friendly. Although, according to the Welcome to Night Vale wiki, Jackie, Diane, and Josh had all previously been mentioned in the podcast, I didn’t remember a thing about them and was still able to follow their stories just fine. That said, I don’t agree that this book is newbie-friendly, and I’d advise newbies to listen to at least a few episodes of the podcast before giving the book a try.
I went into this expecting it to be more like a normal genre novel. Instead, what I got was something that felt exactly like the podcast, except without weather reports, separate narrators for all the characters, and Cecil Palmer keeping the whole thing anchored. It took a long time for the connection between Jackie and Diane’s stories to become apparent. If I felt somewhat adrift and confused, I can only imagine how newbies who knew nothing the Glow Cloud, Tamika Flynn, the ban on wheat and wheat by-products and other Night Vale characters and events felt. This isn’t the kind of book you could jump into cold, unless your tolerance for the strange and surreal is extremely high.
I could only take this book in small chunks, at first. It got better as Jackie and Diane’s paths crossed more, and in the end I’d call this a “must listen” for Night Vale fans, although I still think the podcast is way better. I loved the scene in the Night Vale Public Library, the creepy Night Vale community radio ads, and the various peeks at what daily life is like in Night Vale. After many podcast episodes worth of wondering, I finally got to find out the Man in the Tan Jacket’s identity and goals. I laughed when I realized how the Erikas had helped Jackie and Diane out, and I cringed in arachnophobic horror whenever the tarantula got an appearance (that said, I
hated the way it died).
When I saw that this was narrated by four different people, I assumed it would be like other audiobooks with multiple narrators: one narrator handling the narrative parts and the others doing the dialogue, or each narrator handling a different POV. Instead, it was primarily Cecil Baldwin, with the other three narrators coming in about three quarters into the book to voice Cecil Palmer’s special radio guests, Old Woman Josie and two of the Erikas.
So there you have it: it wasn’t exactly bad, but it also wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be. I’m glad I listened to it because it gave me more of the overall Night Vale story and let me get a better look at more locations in the town. I’ll probably relisten to it at some point, because I enjoy Cecil Baldwin’s voice and might like the book better now that I know how long it takes for the multiple strange and seemingly separate storylines to come together. That said, I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a big Welcome to Night Vale fan.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)