Nothing makes sense in the community of Night Vale—not time, not space, and certainly not the mountains. This is not a new discovery, of course—bizarre happenings have been de rigueur in this small desert town since the 2012 launch of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, on which myriad disappearances, disturbances, and horrific intern deaths have been narrated with calm and aplomb by local radio host and romantic hero Cecil Palmer. The show has also spawned live touring productions, two collections of episode transcriptions, and, of course, original novels, of which It Devours! is the second. Pray that there will be more.
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While the citizens of Night Vale may not behave in ways that rely on logic, much about their stories have been consistent. One of those bits of consistency is perspective: throughout most of our adventures through this genial hellscape, we’ve been led along by someone of the town, someone who may not understand its trapping,s but is nevertheless accustomed to operating within them.
That changes in the second Night Vale novel from podcast creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. It Devours! is very much a Night Vale story, but the star of this outing stands apart from the town.
Nilanjana Sikdar has lived and worked in Night Vale for four years. A scientist working for Cecil’s brilliant beau Carlos (yes, of course Carlos appears), she still far removed from the town’s oddities. (That could be because everyone she encounters greets her as an interloper.) This time, we have a reasoned outsider to represent us in an environment without reason in a way not even Carlos, as dreamy as he is, can manage, given his happy marriage to to Cecil, the anchor upon which the town rests.
As predecessor Welcome to Night Vale unpacked one of the town’s longest-running mysteries, The Man in the Tan Jacket, It Devours! focuses on several bits of recurring podcast weirdness, all of which seem to loop back upon one another: the Smiling God, the desert otherworld, and The House That Doesn’t Exist.
Mysterious sinkholes are dotting the town and consuming homes, local businesses, school gymnasiums, and the townspeople contained within. The destruction seems tied both to Carlos’ research into the desert otherworld in which he was recently trapped, and to a secretive and zealous church, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. The novel’s title comes from the faith’s core tenant that believers and their transgressions will one day be devoured (literally or metaphorically) by their god.
Both level-headed and headstrong, Nilanjana puts the sleuthing back into the scientific method as she attempts to get to the bottom of the latest devastation. She’ll find help from the unlikeliest of sources: Darryl Ramirez, a devout believer in the Smiling God. Their alliance and subsequent investigation elevates the story from a lively romp in a bizarre world to a thoughtful, touching examination of how science and religion might coexist both in Night Vale and beyond.
In this way, this novel has a broader universality than its predecessor, which sometimes felt like proselytizing to the already converted. The struggle between science and religion, reason and faith, plays out with absurdity in a town whose school board president is a Glow Cloud, but the questions Nilanjana, Darryl, and their colleagues and friends wrestle with are common ehough in our own, slightly-less absurd world.
If you’re a longtime listener, you’ll be tickled by the in-jokes and cameos (like John Peters—you know, the farmer). But even if you’ve never before sampled the invisible pie at the Moonlite All-Nite Diner, you’ll be able to enjoy It Devours!—for all the answers it provides, and all those it doesn’t.