Despite taking place in Night Vale, a desert town where angels, hooded figures, strange lights in the sky and flesh-eating librarians are common place, “It Devours!” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor resonates in today’s polarized climate, and maybe gives us a little hope. The novel is the latest installment in the world of Night Vale, which was first introduced in Fink and Cranor’s podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” in 2012. While characters from the podcast make appearances, readers do not have to be a follower of the series to enjoy “It Devours!” However, the novel keeps Night Vale’s signature surreal and bizarre tone that makes for some hilarious moments.
Readers follow Nilanjana Sikdar, a scientist who moved to Night Vale to research “the most scientifically interesting town in America,” as she gets caught up in a world ending mystery. Something or someone is causing earthquakes (not the normal, scheduled ones) and sink holes that are devouring Night Vale piece by piece. While otherworldly and apocalyptic, the plot reads like a classic mystery with intrigue, thrills and red herrings that keep you guessing.
Nilanjana, sent by fellow scientist Carlos to investigate, becomes the reader’s window into the weird world of Night Vale. Being an outsider, and rational thinker, she reacts as the reader would react when confronted with something like almost being eaten by a monstrous government employee in the hall of records, which is to freak the heck out. Nilanjana helps ground a setting, which would be too off the wall otherwise.
Through her investigation, she becomes entangled with the other main character, Darryl, and his church, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. Darryl, despite his inability to smile without appearing insincere, is a genuinely kind young man who was raised by his church. Through Darryl and Nilanjana’s relationship, Fink and Cranor hit the core question of their story—how can the epitomes of religion and science ever come together? With such opposing forces, the narrative could have easily written off one side as the villain. Instead, both Darryl and Nilanjana are explored as full people, with strengths and flaws. As readers, we see both characters become increasingly vulnerable and human as they begin to see each other as human too. They aren’t the only representations of their ideologies either. Readers meet characters from both the laboratory and the church who illustrate that not everyone who shares a label, whether that is church member or scientist, is the same.
Something about finding two deeply flawed, normal characters struggling with the most basic human desires — communication, connection, understanding — in the middle of a town that is anything but normal is reassuring. If Nilanjana and Darryl can work together to save the town from a sinister horror, why can’t I have a conversation with an ideologically opposed classmate or neighbor? Fink and Cranor have brought mystery, humor and their specialty brand of weird together to create a story that everyone can find themselves in.
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