It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Considering the massive, continuing success of their Welcome to Night Vale podcast and the first Night Vale tie-in novel, Welcome to Night Vale, it’s no surprise that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor wanted to keep the ball rolling and co-write a second Night Vale novel. Skeptical or worried readers could be forgiven for justifiable fears about the quality of It Devours! (2017): what if the core concept began to wear thin, what if the writing team of Fink and Cranor began to falter, what if they tried too hard to be “edgy” and simply came across as confrontational or sophomoric? Happily, the quality of It Devours! is such that I think it will put those and many more fears to rest.
An outsider to Night Vale, Dr. Sikdar has happily spent the last four years performing experiments and following proper scientific method under the direction of Carlos, he of the “perfect hair” and “teeth like a military cemetery,” the top scientist in Night Vale, and spouse of Cecil Palmer. Strange rumblings have been heard in the desert flats surrounding the town, and houses and people are simply disappearing into enormous pits, so Carlos entrusts Nilanjana with a very important assignment: find out what’s going on and figure out how to stop it. Coincidentally, she runs into Darryl Ramirez in a coffee shop, and he gives her a pamphlet for his church, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. (“Joyfully, it devours.”) Carlos told Nilanjana that the City Council is worried about the church, especially after receiving a similar tract, so is it possible that the church is behind the disappearances? Or is something else going on?
Darryl Ramirez loves the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God — its members took care of him when his own parents couldn’t/wouldn’t, they helped him get through school, and having faith in a being larger than himself gives his life perspective and clarity. Though many people in Night Vale don’t take him or the church seriously, he enjoys handing out informative pamphlets and gently encouraging people to give the Smiling God a chance. But as he spends more and more time assisting Nilanjana’s efforts to uncover information about the rumblings and giant pits, Darryl begins questioning whether his church’s leaders are being completely forthright.
What I admire most about It Devours! is the even-handed tone Fink and Cranor take with regard to institutionalized Science and Religion, while also providing room and context for an individual’s personal feelings and actions within those structures. Science has given us penicillin and water-purification methods, but it’s also given us nuclear weapons and weaponized smallpox. Religion provides succor and stability for many, but throughout history, religion has been used as the justification for all kinds of terrible actions, like the African slave trade or the persecution of non-conforming people. Each has its good points and bad, but what matters most in It Devours! (and, by extension, in one’s own life) is how people use the best aspects of each institution to make their own lives better and enrich the lives of others. The people at fault are the ones who blindly adhere to their viewpoints without allowing room for alternatives. There’s no heavy-handed dogma here, but rather, encouragement of mental flexibility and tolerance of other beliefs. But, lest you think that the entirety of the novel is caught up in philosophical and metaphysical ramblings, Fink and Cranor have also crammed it to the gills with clever wordplay, angels that absolutely do not exist no matter how many times you see them or give them money, and disappointing potatoes.
Many aspects of Welcome to Night Vale were shared with the podcast, reinforcing much of what I already enjoy — news updates, familiar characters, bizarre circumstances — and while It Devours! is recognizably a Night Vale novel, it diverges enough from precedent that it stands on its own as an interesting, thoughtful, totally whacked-out work of fiction. One of the most notable changes is that the primary characters in It Devours!, Dr. Nilanjana Sikdar and Darryl Ramirez, appear to be almost-entirely original to this story (Dr. Sikdar makes a very brief appearance in Welcome to Night Vale). Another is that there is no embedded episode-within-the-novel, though the narrative is augmented by some very interesting illustrations and text. It Devours! also reveals previously-hidden depths to minor characters from the podcast, particularly Larry Leroy and Big Rico (of Big Rico’s Pizza), and makes use of character changes established in Welcome to Night Vale, so I recommend reading these books in order.
I love the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, and I think these novels are an excellent complement to those thirty-minute dispatches. It makes sense that Welcome to Night Vale followed many guidelines laid down by the podcast; Fink and Cranor obviously wanted to encourage and reward existing fans while widening the net for new audience members. It Devours! succeeds in telling a stellar Night Vale story while forging the way for new tales, new characters, and opportunities to shine a light into previously-unknown corners of this weird, wonderful little town. Highly recommended.
I am SO EXCITED to read this one!