WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is about two residents of the titular strange town of Night Vale wind up in the middle of a city-wide mystery. Jackie is a perpetually nineteen-year-old pawnshop owner whose life is turned upside down by a piece of paper, while Diane is a single mother dealing with her teenage shapeshifting son’s father reappearing in her life. At first, these events seem completely unrelated to one another, but nothing is ever as it seems in the town where aliens, angels, Secret Police, and mad scientists all peacefully co-exist under a Glow Cloud.
The book’s biggest problem is that it’s too much like the podcast it’s based on. The podcast often takes a disinterested tone as the narrator describes a series of horrific or humorous local events of Night Vale, a clear parody of old community radio newscasts. When transplanted into printed media, much of its charm is lost because the interesting premise turns into a series of annoying tangents. Similarly, the narrative prefers to tell rather than show most of the action—a necessity for a podcast, yes, but a huge detriment for a book. There’s very little to invest the reader into the story early on, to the point that the book lives and dies on strengths of its two leads instead.
The pacing of the first half of the book is slower than molasses. The podcast usually avoids this problem by not having a strict plotline, instead placing little snippets and reoccurring characters of a particular arc being spread out over dozens of episodes at a time. The book, on the other hand, is limited to a linear narrative, meaning that the constant tangents interrupt the flow and characters themselves take forever to do anything of significance. Any attempts to build suspense, such as the terror of the library, are wrecked they literally take hundreds of pages to deliver to the payoff. It isn’t helped by transcripts of Night Vale Radio broadcasts randomly inserted into the narrative to minimal effect, and the book frequently recaps the same scene over and over again from a different character’s perspective.
On the plus side, the second half of the book is much better in both tone and delivery. Most of the plot twists are well foreshadowed without being completely obvious, and many of the earlier tangents are tied together in a satisfactory matter. While it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, I did find myself chuckling every few pages, too. A little humor goes a long way to rectify an otherwise miserably slow read.
If it weren’t for the two leads, however, I would not have finished WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE. The difference between age, time, and maturity is one of the strongest themes of the book, and the characters’ circumstances lend to it well. I may not have given two shits about the mystery surrounding King City, but I certainly cared about whether or not Jackie—at this point, a centuries-old teenager—would finally let herself grow up a little and accept change. The bizarre nature of Night Vale itself presents creative, but still relatable, intergeneration conflicts for both women to overcome. The show’s younger fanbase may find the message a bit patronizing, though.