BOOK REVIEW: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

written by David Steffen


The Welcome to Night Vale book, published by Harpin Collins, goes on sale tomorrow.

Night Vale is a mysterious small town in the American Southwest, a place of monsters, alternate worlds, angels, and any other manner of goings-on.   This book tells the tale of two women living in Night Vale. The first woman is Jackie Fierro, a nineteen-year old owner of the town’s pawn shop.  She has been nineteen for a long time, as long as she can remember.  One day she is visited by an utterly forgettable man in a tan jacket and carrying a deerskin briefcase who pawns a piece of paper that says “KING CITY”.  Jackie can’t let the piece of paper go.  Literally, she can’t make the paper leave her hand–she can drop it, burn it, soak it in water, and it will always be in her hand again entirely intact.  What does the paper mean?  What is it for?  Who is the man in the tan jacket?  The second woman is Diane Crayton, PTA treasurer and mother of  shapeshifting son Josh.  Lately Diane has been seeing Josh’s estranged father everywhere she goes, and at the same time Josh has started to voice interest in this man he’s never met.  Diane and Jackie both go searching for answers, and cross paths with each other in their search.

The book is based in the world of the popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which is formatted as a community radio show that takes place in this weird desert town (I wrote up a podcast spotlight for this a couple weeks ago).  The book is both similar and very different.  Similar in that it has the same weird feel to it, the same tendency to be very appealing not only in strange events but in odd turns of phrase in the narrative.  And there are characters that you may recognize from the podcast as well as references to past events from the podcast.  The community radio show that is the podcast is mentioned more than once, as well as being represented in short inter-chapter sections that are radio transcripts.  But overall it is also very different because, unlike the podcast, the book is structured as a narrative rather than a news program.   Since the podcast takes a form that wouldn’t translate very well directly to a full book, this was the main thing I was wondering about when I heard about the book release, but the authors pulled off the different format very well while maintaining the same feel.

You can pick up the book as a standalone and read it, and you will be able to understand it.  Without the three years of the podcast’s history in your mind, you will miss some in-references, but I don’t believe there’s any point in the book where the plot hinges upon an unexplained reference.  If you think that you might want to listen to the podcast, keep in mind that the book will contain spoilers for the events of the podcast– this might or might not be a big deal to you, as much of the appeal of the podcast is not plot-centered, but if you do want to be surprised by new developments in the podcast as they happen, just keep that in mind.

I am a big fan of the podcast. I only picked it up last year, but I’ve caught up on the three-year backlog in the meantime.  I love the podcast, so much weird good fun.  And I love this book for all its similarities and differences.  There is so much here to love: sympathetic characters, oddball ideas, humor.  I highly recommend picking up the book.  If you want a taste of the kind of writing first, listen to some of the podcast episodes for free to get a taste.  I hope this books is a huge success so that there will be more books to follow.