Book Review: ‘Welcome to Night Vale’

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Danielle Watkins

File Under: book review, night vale

Adapting one form of media into a different form can easily turn disastrous. Novels are often adapted into movies that do no justice to the story. Video games often become television shows with flat, underdeveloped characters. There are those rare occasions, however, when an adaptation is done so well that it practically rivals the original medium. In these rare cases beloved characters are explored in new depths, old stories are revisited, and new plots are made. The novel Welcome to Night Vale is one of these rare cases.

The novel Welcome to Night Vale is based on a popular podcast of the same name. Started in 2012, the podcast has been ensnaring listeners ever since with its strange “news reports” from the fictional desert town of Night Vale. Narrated by the town’s enthusiastic radio show host Cecil Baldwin, the Welcome to Night Vale podcast tells of the mysterious lights, hooded figures, alien encounters, sentient glow clouds, and conspiracies that make up the daily life of Night Vale citizens. Its inexplicable stories and signature style of presenting bizarre events as the most mundane of experiences has turned the podcast into a cult classic. The novel Welcome to Night Vale was written by the podcast’s writers and remains true to the spirit of the original podcast.

The novel centers around two residents of Night Vale often mentioned in the podcasts: Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton. Jackie Fierro is 19 and has been 19 for as long as she can remember, decades at least. Her life running the only pawn shop in Night Vale is a continual cycle of well-practiced routines. Jackie’s life is perfectly normal by Night Vale standards, until The Man in the Tan Jacket (another beloved podcast character) arrives, hands her a paper with a mysterious message and then vanishes. Unable to get rid of or destroy the paper, Jackie embarks on a quest to find the meaning of the message, which is just two words: “King City.” At the same time on the other side of town Diane Crayton hasn’t seen her son’s father in 15 years when suddenly she sees him everywhere. He’s working a dozen different jobs and looking exactly the same as he did the day he left, and what’s more, he doesn’t seem to know her at all. When Diane’s shapeshifting son starts trying to find out more about his father, the stage is set for a disaster of Night Vale-proportions.

Diane’s and Jackie’s stories, along with a few “radio broadcasts” from Cecil Baldwin, intersect in complex methods throughout this well written and darkly funny novel, making for a thoroughly enjoyable book. This book is highly recommended to any fans of the podcast, whether you’ve memorized each episode or just listened casually once or twice. You don’t necessarily have to have listened to the podcast to read the book, but it does make things more interesting, and much of the book’s entertainment factor comes from references to the podcast. Certainly, if you’ve never listened to the podcast but intend to read Welcome to Night Vale, be prepared to read something very bizarre.

All in all, I have no major complaints, and would give this book a 10 out of 10. Next time you look for something to read, consider Welcome to Night Vale and see just how normal the bizarre can become.