There are probably two target audiences for ‘Welcome to Night Vale – A Novel’. Neither of them will be entirely satisfied.
The first is the actual fanbase of “Welcome to Night Vale”, the podcast that began in 2012 and has been spreading through the collective consciousness of geekdom to the point where Stephen Colbert brought the creators (and Cecil Baldwin, the main performer in the series) onto his talk show to discuss it. These people are all intimately aware of the strange and fantastic details that make the series such a wonderful blend of the macabre and the deadpan and know all that can be known about the small desert down where inexplicable things happen all the time. (Which isn’t much, because, well, go look up “inexplicable” and get back to me.)
The second is the people who saw the Colbert appearance (or something like it) and came to the book with only the vaguest notion of what “Welcome to Night Vale” is, and thought that the book might function as an introduction to the strange and mysterious world that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have created.
For the first audience, this is a book that takes a while to get going. It focuses on two fairly obscure characters from the Night Vale mythos, pawnshop owner Jackie Fierro and PTA volunteer Diane Crayton, and much of the first half of the book is simply spent establishing them as more than simply background characters whose names are mentioned in passing from time to time. There’s a lot of overlap to their respective story arcs, as well, which means that you’ll frequently feel like you’re reading the same passage twice until the mid-point of the novel when they finally decide to work together to solve their interrelated mysteries.
At that point, the book picks up steam in a big way, and fans of the podcast will be happy to know that the book finally gives out some answers to one of the big questions–who is the Man in the Tan Jacket and why does he keep coming to Night Vale to pursue a vague yet sinister agenda? (The answer is not wholly satisfying, either, to be honest; it requires a lot of squinting and backfilling in every previous story with, “Ah, well, that was all part of my master plan all along!” That said, one of the things about the Man in the Tan Jacket is that he takes “vague” to new heights, so it could very well be that everything was part of a master plan and we just didn’t know it.)
For the second audience, this is undoubtedly going to feel like wandering into a bizarre tangent of a conversation that they weren’t present for–Cecil, the Voice of Night Vale, only appears in a few cutaway sequences and doesn’t interact with the main plot very much at all, and there are a lot of inside jokes that will no doubt just seem like random weirdness to someone not familiar with the podcast. Then again, that’s probably a pretty good introduction to the podcast, because all of the inside jokes got their start as bits of random weirdness until they were promoted. And the revelations about the Man in the Tan Jacket probably won’t mean as much if you haven’t been spending the past three years saying, “Who _is_ this guy?”
Both audiences may be slightly frustrated by the supremely deadpan narrative voice, which takes great pains to smother any surprise or emotional heft beneath a crushing weight of fatalism and existentialism, and which can get almost hypnotically same-y at times. Those people might want the audiobook version, which is read by Cecil Baldwin and has a little bit more verve as a result.
However, all of the audiences will find a lot to like here–there are quite a few read-out-loud funny bits, some genuinely suspenseful sequences (the library looms large in the book), and you will feel surprisingly moved by what happens to the tarantula. Oh, and the plot does hang together quite well even if you feel like the first two hundred pages are mostly about the main characters hoping they can find a way to avoid the narrative altogether and get back to their normal lives.
In short, there are probably two target audiences for ‘Welcome to Night Vale – A Novel’. Neither of them will walk away dissatisfied.