"Stephanie got Darryl interested in the faith itself, all of the many blessings of the Smiling God and the way It could devour all the pain of your life. It was a beautiful story, especially when it was told to you by someone you trusted and cared for. A story never stands on its own, but exists in the context of the storyteller."
- It Devours!, 154
If you like the very bizarre and the very charming, I've got a great book rec for you!
I recently spent a week in Southern California visiting family and brought along It Devours! for the airplane ride and lazy, blue-skyed mornings on my family's front deck. Much like the book's Smiling God, I devoured it very quickly.
It Devours! is the latest novel by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, legends in the podcasting world for pioneering fantastic fiction podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Alice isn’t Dead. The story is set in a small desert town called Night Vale, in a world not unlike our own (but at the same time, like, totally different). Cranor and Fink have spent the last six years developing this world and they always do an excellent job. A trip to Night Vale always respects continuity and is always immersive. It was a joy to jump back into it with It Devours!
But you don’t need to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to enjoy this book. I’d highly recommend giving it a try, because Cecil Baldwin is an excellent voice actor and the series itself is fantastic, but Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink always do a thorough job of world-building no matter what medium they’re working in, so you aren't missing out on anything essential if you go in blind. The references to beloved characters and past events that are in the book are more akin to easter eggs for longtime fans.
Here’s the synopsis for It Devours!:
Welcome to Night Vale... a friendly desert community somewhere in the American Southwest, where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are part of everyday life.
Nilanjana Skidar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working with Carlos, the town's top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world-views as they are faced with the Congregation's darkest and most terrible secret.
A page-turning mystery about faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God, It Devours! will entertain both fans of Welcome to Night Vale and those discovering its extraordinary world for the first time.
"Not everyone believes in mountains, yet there they are, in plain sight.
Scientists insist, rather halfheartedly, that mountains are bulging results of tectonic shifts along massive rocky plates. Mountains develop naturally over the course of many milennia, sceintists, say under their breaths.
Most people believe that mountains aren't there at all. Even when mountains are visible, as they often are, nonbelievers will explain that our minds create sensory illusions to help explain what we cannot understand, like the shapes of gods and monsters in the stars, or messages in tea leaves, or government codes in cloud patters."
-It Devours!, 1
If It Devours! sounds weird, it's because it is. Equally charming is its wonderfully diverse cast of characters—diverse in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, and even diverse in terms of species and worlds of origin. It also depicts real problems alongside the fantastical; maybe that’s something as simple as navigating a tenuous relationship or as strange as dealing with hooded, inhuman figures gathering on your front lawn, but as strange as Night Vale is, when you strip away the radical differences, you get a lot of truth about our own lives. Night Vale might have a shapeshifting teenager, but like most kids he struggles to know who he is and who he wants to become. That sort of stuff.
It Devours! is, in fact, filled thoughts about human nature, like little pearls of wisdom waiting to be pelted at you as you maneuver through the story, unaware of what’s going to hit you next.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of the podcast, the book is also all about giving readers a chance to swoon over Cecil and Carlos’ beautiful relationship, which is 100% goals all day every day. That was also great!
I did have a few minor issues with the story, however. The plot (and plot twist), for example, felt a bit on the nose, but I didn’t disagree with everything it was trying to convey, so I didn’t mind too much. I also sometimes felt the quirky world-building descriptions could be excessive, at times almost schtick-y (let’s take X and turn it on it’s head so it becomes 4, repeat ad nauseum), but at the same time I recognized that these descriptions help bring Night Vale to life in one’s imagination. Still, it felt excessive at times, particularly in the early middle-ish.
I enjoyed basically every other aspect of the book, though. I especially liked Nilanjana’s and Darryl’s character arcs; Nilanjana was an easy character to root for and I loved getting to know her better over the course of the book. I even saw a bit of myself in her, which I think many young people will feel as well. Darryl, on the other hand, was a character that represented radical, pacifist people of faith that did its best to draw my sympathy and compassion, and while I would never, ever want to hang out with the guy, I liked him as a character.
"Darryl was likeable. But there was a difference between likeable and good. In many ways, Nilanjana felt like on of the most important parts of growing up, and of approaching the world as an adult, was understanding the difference between likeable and good, and recognizing that one often had no effect on the other."
- It Devours!, 122
It Devours! is a mystery novel and a meditation on ideological differences, but it’s also an exploration of being a young adult and learning about what kind of person you’re becoming, even if you aren’t a shapeshifting teenager, and I loved that aspect of it. The story isn't made for diehard fans of mysteries, but it’s easy to appreciate nonetheless, and I loved the way the plot ounfolded, particularly with regards to the Smiling God (it will devour your sins!).
Cranor and Fink have once again created a Night Vale story that's hilarious, thoughtful, and full of charming weirdness that any fan will enjoy. And if you’re not a fan—now’s the time to give it a shot!