REVIEW: Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel

There are very few words that can properly phrase how excited I get every time a new Welcome to Night Vale episode hits the web. Needless to say, when an actual novel about my favourite desert town was announced, I squealed. Repeatedly, for several days on end, mostly followed by awkward silences.

For those among you who are not yet familiar with Welcome to Night Vale: you can listen to it using any podcast listening app or via Soundcloud. For more information on it, check out their website or my post on gothy podcasts. Even though the novel takes place in the same fictional universe, being familiar with the podcast is not absolutely necessary. The story stands on it own and can be enjoyed without knowing what has happened previously.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel (written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor) tells the story of the strange occurrences in the lives of Jackie, Diane, and their families. The story begins when a man in a tan jacket offers Jackie a small paper up for pawning. Rather than stacking it on her shelf and offering it for 11 dollars as she always does, it sticks to her hand. Now everywhere Jackie goes, the small paper with the ominous words KING CITY go with her. In the meanwhile, Diane is struggling with her work, her forever shape-shifting son, and her mysterious ex-lover. Somehow Jackie's and Diane's stories entwine and they suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the mysterious KING CITY.

No matter how much I love Welcome to Night Vale, I'll have to be slightly critical of this novel. I do admit, I read it entirely in one sitting, only putting it down when my boss finally threatened to fire me. I intensely enjoyed reading it, start to finish; the atmosphere is spot on but still, this novel is quite flawed. First off, the main characters are far from the most interesting inhabitants of Night Vale. You might argue that that's a good thing because many of those Night Vale characters are fascinating mostly due to the mystery that surrounds them; still, I was quite disappointed that none of my favourite characters were featured in this story.

Secondly, the writing itself. The entire novel is written in short, simple sentences that end up feeling very staccato after a while. The writing isn't exactly bad, but it gets tiring to read. The podcast itself is narrated in a similar manner and it seems like the authors have tried to transfer that exact same style into a novelization, which simply doesn't work all that well.

Finally, I was quite disappointed to find that the plot was very thin, actually nearly non-existent. It's not a bad story, and the KING CITY concept is delightfully creepy, but it almost feels like the authors hadn't considered the fact that apparently a book needs a plot - who knew? - and just made one up quickly to be done with it. I do understand why they seemed hesitant about a plot; strangely, WTNV seems to be a concept that really doesn't work when its aspects are unravelled and explained. Its mystery is a big part of the charm.

No matter how severe I'm being right now, I did really like Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel. The atmosphere was good enough for me to overlook most of its flaws. Personally, I think the town of Night Vale, its characters, and the podcast as a whole are concepts that benefit from third person narration. The entirety being clouded in mystery and uncertainty is what makes the atmosphere so thrilling. The moment we are allowed to hear the characters' words from their own mouths and the plot is actually being unravelled, something of the mystery is lost, and that shatters the concept. I'm still looking forward to the other WTNV books but I can only hope that the authors will manage to translate the phenomenon that is Welcome to Night Vale into a novel that is equally thrilling.

Have any of you read the novel yet and if so, what did you think of it? My own expectations were probably too high, but as you may have noticed, I'm a little bit disappointed.