Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, (Harper Perennial, October 2015), 416pp.
Look at how this book begins:
Pawnshops in Night Vale work like this.
First you need an item to pawn.
To get this, you need a lot of time behind you, years spent living and existing, until you’ve reached a point where you believe that you exist, and that a physical item exists, and that the concept of ownership exists, and that, improbable as all those are, these absurd beliefs line up in a way that results in you owning an item.
Good job. Nicely done.
I’m hooked already because this is something different, a unique way of getting this humorous contemporary fantasy underway, and–one hopes–as s/he reads further that the authors will be able to maintain the style and tone of their opening. They do.
From the Publisher
“Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.
“Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “KING CITY” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.”
We’re a not visiting the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” aren’t we? There’s no handy expert standing by a few minutes away who can drop by to analyze the item. Fink and Cranor have a jump start with this book, drawing from the popular “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast that The Guardian says is like a local news Twin Peaks.
From the Reviewers
Welcome to Night Vale has an average Amazon reviewer rating of 4.6 with 75% or the reviewers awarding it 5 stars.
Kirkus Reviews starred review sums up, I believe, the general view of professional reviewers: “All hail the glow cloud as the weird and wonderful town of Night Vale brings itself to fine literature…A delightfully bonkers media crossover that will make an incredible audiobook.” I think of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series as somewhat bonkers and Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as totally bonkers. I don’t think it’s heresy to say Welcome to Night Vale will remind readers of the best of each–in addition to the “Twin Peaks” thing. Oh, and a dash of “Twilight Zone.”
We’re a long way from Harry Potter. In fact, I’m not quite sure where we are. Cory Doctorow seems to know: “They’ve done the unthinkable: merged the high weirdness and intense drama of Night Vale to the pages of a novel that is even weirder, even more intense than the podcast.”
For my money, both “Twin Peaks” and “Lost” ultimately fell apart because the writers added so much weirdness that they had no place left to go. Fink and Cranor don’t let things get that far out of hand, and that’s good, because it would have been a real shame to let the promise of the opening lines become lost in, say, a dark Marx brothers/Three Stooges comedy.
If you enjoy a drink, pour yourself several fingers of something good, for Welcome to Night Vale is a delightfully bumpy ride.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy novel “The Sun Singer” which is free on Kindle December 17-20, 2015.