It Devours!, the second original novel of the Welcome to Night Vale universe, is a meandering meditation on science and religion that struggles with adhering too closely to the iconic voice of the podcast. The story, from Night Vale creators Fink and Cranor, follows scientist Nilanjana Sikdar as she works with her boss, Carlos, to investigate mysterious rumblings and disappearances in the desert. Her investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God and Darryl Ramirez, a congregant who is thrilled at the opportunity for outreach. As the investigation continues and the two grow closer, they must all confront challenging questions about their perceptions of the world and its truths.
While Fink and Cranor offer valuable thoughts on faith, community, and love, their narrative struggles with building tension and energy until its barreling through the climax. Part of the allure of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is its circular language, penchant for tangents, and unexpected descriptions of everyday things. In 20- to 30-minute podcast segments held together by the soothing, idiosyncratic narration of radio host Cecil Palmer (portrayed by Cecil Baldwin), each episode becomes a surreal instance of world building. In novel form, this tendency stretches out events until the energy fizzles away.
Similarly, while the books are written with the idea that you don’t need to listen to the podcast to understand the books, it is also clear that they are written with Cecil-the-character’s voice in mind. In general, maintaining the style across the mediums ensures that listeners will have Cecil’s voice in mind as they read. There are, however, specific flourishes that drive this idea home, such as each mention of Carlos, Cecil’s husband in the show, being accompanied by a mention of his extreme handsomeness. In the podcast, such statements are practically a reflex for Cecil. With Cecil Baldwin also reading the audiobook, it seems likely that the audiobook is the intended format for the story.
These issues aside, I can’t help but like this addition to Night Vale canon. Intelligent but accessible writing, not-so-subtle political moments, and a romantic subversion that made me want to clap my hands, all mix into exactly my cup of tea. The primary thematic push is exploring the similarity of science and religion as systems of faith, and the inevitability of personal bias affecting the works of each. To that end, Fink and Cranor celebrate diversity and working with people of different perspectives to discover solutions. As a personal narrative cherry on top, there are tinges of a found family story as Nilanjana stops feeling like an outside to Night Vale and begins to feel like a part of the community.
Despite the problems with pacing and energy through the first half of the book, Fink and Cranor address some questions that don’t see a lot of discussion, and they do it well. The novel’s back half turns up the energy and tension while still keeping the weirdness that makes Night Vale vibrant and the drips of wisdom that keep the whole thing unsettlingly profound. It Devours! is worth reading, but maybe spring for the audiobook instead.