A copy of this turned up in our new books delivery at the library, and I turned into one of those seagulls from Finding Nemo in about two seconds flat.
I’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale since its early days. For the uninitiated, Night Vale first appeared as an online podcast, each episode following Cecil Palmer, local radio host, and his descriptions of the events in the spooky desert town of Night Vale – where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and every night strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.
After following five years’ worth of episodes about Night Vale, when the creators announced a book, I was actually pretty sceptical. Welcome to Night Vale has a very specific tone, its language carefully crafted to give just enough detail to keep you intrigued, and yet remain vague enough to be deeply unsettling. A lot of this is carried across by Cecil Palmer’s low, melodious voice – zipping quickly from a dread-inspiring near-monotone for the spooky moments to upbeat chipperness for Night Vale’s weird sense of humour. (Kudos to the actor, Cecil Baldwin, for that. Yes, they are both called Cecil. That’s only the start of the oddness of Night Vale.)
No way, I thought, can they pull that off in a book.
Man, I was wrong. The Welcome to Night Vale book pulls off the exact tone of the Night Vale podcasts, expanding massively on the world of Night Vale and giving us a chance to see from the perspective of people that, until now, really only existed as secondary characters in Cecil’s stories (and man, Cecil can be a really unreliable narrator). Plenty of favourites show up in the series, from Old Woman Josie to The Man In the Tan Jacket to Carlos the Scientist, without feeling like they’re awkwardly crammed in place for fanservice.
I was stunned at how fast the plot seemed to go in Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel, ripping me through one chapter after another and keeping me questioning the whole time. This is especially impressive since the plot of Welcome to Night Vale: the Podcast is often … well, glacial. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating, but in comparison the novel felt like a mile-a-minute thriller.
If I could find one flaw in the Welcome to Night Vale novel, it’s this: it’s not meant for new fans. It’s packaged and advertised and presented as a way to get into the series for the first time, but I really, strongly recommend you don’t start with this book.
When Carlos appeared, a massive grin hit my face. But to someone unfamiliar with the series, Carlos is a nonentity. There are references to the forbidden dog park; the old woman who secretly lives in your home; the vast dark planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans – which seem utterly random and pointless without the context of the podcast.
My advice? Listen to the podcast first. It can take a few episodes to get the hang of its bizarre tone and content, but it’s worth it. The whole series is on Youtube for free, so you don’t need to spend a penny giving it a try, and it’s great background noise for doing the washing up / ironing / cleaning out the hamsters. When you’re caught up – or at least coming to the end of the 2015 season, which is when the book was released – then read the book. You’ll get so much more out of it.
But if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale and you haven’t touched this book yet … for the love of the Glow Cloud, get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it.