Sent to me by Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 19/10/17
Publisher: Orbit (Little, Brown)
Format: Hardback, 368pp
Genre: Alternative Reality/Science-Fiction (And a little bit of everything else)
Summed up in a word: Extraordinary
Welcome To Night Vale is a wondrously bizarre concept created by some incredible minds. It has a brilliant cult following and has been interpreted in radio, book and stage-show format all around the world. It is an acquired taste though so I recommend checking out episode one of the podcast first before approaching the books. IT DEVOURS! was a definite success, I had such a great time in Night Vale yet again. I do think this was an improvement on the previous novel as it was developed more expertly, drawing in the reader with curiosity and intrigue instead of going straight for the absurdity. Don’t panic though, there is enough of Night Vale’s classic surrealism and oddity to go around, just in a slightly more digestible form. For newcomers, good luck with your first time in Night Vale 😀
Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret.
The Night Vale community is hands down one of the weirdest places you will ever visit in radio or literature format. But it is pleasantly random with its own hilarious charm and impossible physics. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cramor are some strange dudes but I love how their minds work and their unique vision of Night Vale is a wondrous, mind-bending and fascinating location. The Welcome to Night Vale podcast is a revelation and the novels are a fascinating extension of that world turning it into 3D realm where everyone has their own narrative; where events are fleshed out and explored in new and exotic ways.
I find it so easy to get lost in this superbly alternative reality where nothing works the way it should be as everyone just moves forwards or backwards or any which way the world takes them. A masterfully unpredictable read that will have you in genuine stitches or scratching your head in disbelief. I especially enjoy how Joseph and Jeffrey touch upon key existential issues like identity in an unusual and informal style encouraging reader and listeners to lighten up a bit about certain aspects of life. IT DEVOURS! is both for fans, there are plenty of satisfying nods to the source material, and for newcomers to the series, so get stuck in.
Nilanjana Sikdar is devoted to science. Dealing in facts, theories and hypotheses. When her boss Carlos asks her politely ‘not’ to investigate the house on the edge of town that doesn’t exist (that may or may not be a portal to another dimension) and the strange earthquake like tremors that accompany the site because the City Council and the Secret Police said not to, she jumps on the chance. During her investigations she meets Darryl, a member of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and begins another search for answers within their tight-nit religious community. As her interactions with Darryl increase and intensify Nils begins to questions her logic and the possibility of otherworldly beings. All she really knows is there is a dangerous threat headed for the town and she must stop it. There are so many questions and theories hanging in the balance and I was just happy to be along for the ride.
Is the Smiling God real? What exactly is coming to the town and what are it’s (hideous and sinister) intentions? Is it the congregation and The Smiling God or the shady government entities behind these disappearances into another realm? As events unfold Nils’ becomes a target for those who want to keep their plans secret and they are insistent on keeping her quiet by any means necessary. I thought this story was a perfect match for the series and as expected it takes the reader to some outlandish and fascinating places. With a entertaining and puzzling narrative populated with unforgettable characters and copious amounts of humour, warped pop-culture references and peculiar little flourishes, there is so much for the reader to relish and experience. Come immerse yourself in Night Vale, it is like a second home to me.
There are plenty of characters to appreciate in NV but Nilanjana is by far the most interesting (within the novel that is). Nils is an outsider in Night Vale. She doesn’t (and probably never will) understand what the real deal is within this town. It is a helpfully objective view for the reader. She was brought to the town via intuition just like the rest of the ‘interlopers’. Nothing functions correctly within the towns limits and Nils has to be prepared for anything! This includes but is not limited to time travellers, bi-pedal dogs, government surveillance helicopters and bartenders with an unlimited knowledge of the universe. I enjoyed her as a main character as she is only slightly less out of her depth than we are in this town but her scientific prowess and thirst for knowledge won’t let her stop looking for the truth.
It is only Nils’ interactions with Darryl and the Joyous Congregation that threaten her sanity. Nils and Darryl have a contrasting relationship of the mind and soul. Darryl is in the centre of everything within the congregation. He holds all the answers but with the pressure of a religious group on his shoulders, he is trapped between his oath and the truth. I thought Nils and Darryl were an interesting coupling and their back and forths made for some strange but fascinating dialogue and interactions. Nils sees the world objectively where as Darryl lives firmly within his subjective religious perspective. But as they bond they both become conflicted about their views. When Darryl agrees to help Nils infiltrate the congregation all otherworldly hell breaks loose around them.
The imagery that this novel generates is phenomenal. I love where JF and JC’s writing takes my mind. Nothing is ever simple and even the most basic interactions or events can dip into Night Vale’s alternative reality aesthetic. I do miss Cecil Balwin’s inclusion this time around as he is a familiar face and his radio show takes us all over the place. That said, the illustrations included in IT DEVOURS! are just as brilliant, telling a godly story about It and It’s intentions. My only slight issue with the book is that it might be a tad tame for the more hardcore fans of WTNV. JF/JC explore some cool new ideas but it might seem a tad too familiar for those who spend a lot of time with the podcasts. Luckily JF/JC have some cards up their sleeves such as the Congregation to keep super fans invested.
The Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God are an organisation of religious zealots (more cult-like than church) who’s imagery based scripture is a language of metaphors. They are crafted perfectly for a town like Night Vale and I was mesmerised by their inclusion. The congregation are preparing for the arrival of the Smiling God who is going to devour all of the towns sins, insecurities and problems. The Smiling God is an entity of hope and salvation but all of Nils’ hypotheses directly contradict this truth. Something, The Smiling God or something much worse, is consuming the town and if it isn’t stopped then the whole town may disappear. Nils must work with the community and against the council, secret police and congregation to protect Night Vale’s future.
There is no pigeon-holing the genre that this story occupies. There is mystery, surreal science-fiction, horror, thrills, humour, romance (however strange that may be), adventure and intellectually challenging concepts. It is weird because it should be more confused or unappealing than it is but Night Vale just works as a concept. There is so much to admire and investigate about this town and its people. There is a lot of humour but the novel has its fair share of genuine and meaningful moments too which was a nice additional to the narrative. IT DEVOURS is just one story that JF/JC have told and there are many more out there to be found within the many books and podcasts that are available to us. Welcome To Night Vale is in a league of its own and I can’t get enough of it.
For a series that sets the comedy bar pretty high IT DEVOURS follows some pretty deep themes. The religious themes are very prominent as well as government secrecy. The novel explores theories, hypothetical questions and ideas, existential issues/problems, the argument between religious belief and scientific doubt and so much more. For a book that is fundamentally hilarious and odd, IT DEVOURS! also delves into some really interesting themes and tones. It is evocative and intriguing to say the least. I literally lost track of time reading this novel and it was so much fun being back in the mind-bending civilisation that is Night Vale. I recommend you all visit too.
About Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Joseph Fink created and co-writes the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, novel and touring live show. In his mid-twenties he started Commonplace Books, producing two collections of short works which he edited at his office job when his boss wasn’t looking. He is from California but doesn’t live there anymore.
Jeffrey Cranor co-writes the hit podcast, novel and touring live show Welcome to Night Vale. He has also written more than one hundred short plays with the New York Neo-Futurists, co-wrote and co-performed a two-man show about time travel with Joseph, and collaborated with choreographer (also wife) Jillian Sweeney to create three full-length dance pieces. Jeffrey lives in New York State.