IT DEVOURS! Review – New Welcome To Night Vale Novel
I want to be upfront and start this by saying that I am a huge Welcome To Night Vale
fan. The surrealist blend of horror, comedy, and genuinely affecting observations on the human condition have made for one of my favorite podcasts for half a decade, now. I love the series, I loved the previous novel. I am the target audience for the new novel, IT DEVOURS!. With that disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to tell you why you should read IT DEVOURS! even if you’ve never listened to a single episode of Welcome To Night Vale.
For those unfamiliar, Night Vale is a small desert town where unfathomable cosmic
horror is woven into the fabric of daily living. Conspiracy theories, shadowy government
organizations, supernatural beings, and all manner of waking nightmares are quietly accepted as a part of the community. To exist in Night Vale is to make peace with a cruel and terrifying world that ultimately will not care if you die at any moment, for any number of impossible-to-predict reasons. In that way, it is much like existing anywhere.
While the podcast takes the form of a local community radio show in Night Vale, hosted
by Cecil Palmer, the novel follows a local scientist, Nilanjana Sikdar. She works alongside Cecil Palmer’s husband, Carlos, who is fascinated by the strange phenomena surrounding Night Vale. Nilanjana is young, career-driven, and socially awkward. She is an outsider, in the tight-knit community, having moved to Night Vale recently (citizens will often point and shout “Interloper!”), and so she throws herself into her work. Her peers are focused less on technological advancement or the pursuit of knowledge than they are on winning awards and grants. Which is why, when Carlos needs help with a covert experiment, he calls on Nilanjana.
Carlos recruits Nilanjana to help him study “a house that does not exist.” An average-
looking house in a residential area that is described as being “right there, when you look at it,” but which does not actually exist. Carlos has some dark history with the house, having gone inside once and been trapped for a time in a desolate otherworld. He’s built a device to take various measurements and readings of the house that doesn’t exist, but when he activates it, a mysterious external force seemingly takes action to stop him.
Whenever he tries to study the house, strange seismic activity occurs, causing massive
sinkholes. An artist living on the outskirts of town disappears, along with his home, leaving
behind only a massive pit. Then, the local pizza joint suffers the same fate. Pieces of Night Vale are being swallowed up, and Nilanjana is set on unraveling the mystery. The nature of Night Vale is such that any number of things could be causing the disasters. Carlos suspects the local government of interfering, after the nightmarish city council warns him away from continuing his research. Nilanjana’s investigation leads her to a local religious sect, The Church of The Smiling God.
The church is unsettling, and feels very much like a cult. Worshippers of the Smiling God
brandish disarming, toothy grins constantly. They pray to their Smiling God, in the belief that it will devour their regrets, their sins, their unwanted desires. “We are blessed by its hunger,” reads their tract. While looking into them, Nilanjana meets Daryl, one of the church’s most devout followers. Against her better judgment, she develops a bit of a crush on Daryl.
As they spend time together, the novel begins to really explore its primary themes. It is,
in large part, a story of the intersection and opposition between faith and science. Framing the representatives of science as heroes and the representatives of religion as disturbing cultists doesn’t especially seem like the set-up for a fair exploration of these themes. Yet, surprisingly, the novel does a beautiful job of validating both points of view. Daryl’s passion for his church and his faith are genuinely moving. The scientists are shown as flawed, often acting just as absurd as any of the worshippers. By the end, it’s clear that neither group ever had all the answers, or probably ever will. Science and religion are painted as being two sides of the same coin, a human need to believe in something. To ask questions and search for answers, to try to make sense of the terrifying place we all find ourselves in.
This is the sort of thing that Welcome To Night Vale excels in, and what truly makes the
property unique. It takes place in an absurd, cartoonishly horrifying world, but expertly probes themes and feelings that are utterly universal. The novel expertly, effortlessly shifts from the jarringly insane to the intimately familiar. It makes you laugh, shudder, then suffer an existential crisis in the span of a single page. Nilanjana’s uncertainty, her difficulty parsing her own feelings, her occasional recklessness, should be deeply relatable to anyone who’s ever been confused in their twenties. The questions it raises about the nature of faith, of asking questions beyond our capacity for answers, will be deeply relatable for anyone who’s ever happened to be a living person.
IT DEVOURS! is a perfect comedy, and at times a genuinely harrowing horror story. It is
a novel that takes place in a town where the city council is a writhing mass of indescripable monsters. A town where angels exist, but it is illegal to acknowledge their existence. A town where hauntings by vengeful ghosts are common and time doesn’t always work. It is a novel that features government conspiracies, eerie desert otherworlds, a cult, a terrifying god, a shapeshifter. And it is one of the most human stories I’ve read all year.