Review: It Devours! – A Welcome To Night Vale Novel

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Review: It Devours! – A Welcome To Night Vale Novel

Being great big fans, as we are, of the Welcome To Night Vale podcast, it was tough to decide which one of us would write the review for their latest book, It Devours. Rock Paper Scissors and flipping a coin didn’t work (why? It’s tough to explain. Hey look over there…) so we decided we’d both review it in the format of an instant messenger conversation (Hey, it worked for our review of Norse Mythology.)

Click the jump for a spoiler-filled discussion about the coolest parts of the book, sections that may or may not have been shout-outs, and a mild disagreement about the book’s treatment of religion.

We start the evening with our usual round of technical issues.

Elizabeth
Restarting my computer, it’s been a bit sluggish and I don’t want it to bog down mid conversation.

Kathryn
Fortunately we’re not in Night Vale and don’t have to deal with a lot of paperwork to get approval for an illegal computer, or use a box with a lot of blinking lights that we’re pretending doesn’t do the same thing as a computer.

Elizabeth
If restarting doesn’t help I can see if Jamillah can fix it with her drill.

Kathryn
Or Luisa with her potatoes.

Elizabeth
Or Mark’s machine. If it’s not broken too.
BANG
*flash*
Goshdarnit

Kathryn
Or Carlos with SCIENCE.

Elizabeth
Or the pastor with DEVOURING

Kathryn
Speaking of Carlos…Carlos? CARLOS??

Elizabeth
Really, what was UP, Carlos?

Kathryn
CARLOS ISN’T SUPPOSED TO HAVE FLAWS, CARLOS IS PERFECT.

Elizabeth
Carlos is wrong, science was to blame, WHAT’S HAPPENING THIS IS NOT THE NIGHT VALE I KNOW.

Kathryn
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to summarize what’s going on with this story, for anyone who isn’t already familiar with Night Vale.
I’m not having much luck. The story starts with someone’s house getting devoured by something under the ground. And then everyone has to try to figure out what’s eating parts of the town. And just about everyone is wrong.

Elizabeth
Science and religion can be equally right and wrong so everybody hug and make up?

Kathryn
What makes it more confusing is that “science” and “religion” seem to mean different things in Night Vale.

Elizabeth
Do they?
I thought they were bang on with both.

Kathryn
I mean, we’re introduced to the main character Nilanjana Sikdar when she’s working in Carlos’s lab on a project involving bacteria counts, and her co-worker Luisa is kind of pooh-pooing her idea because she doesn’t think that’s “really” science. Not like Luisa’s experiment with dosing potatoes with disappointment.
And the Church of the Smiling God…their religion is LITERALLY less than a few years old.
Entirely based on the life of someone they barely knew, who didn’t exactly leave a lot of instructions about this “faith” they’re following.

Elizabeth
(Shades of Scientology there.)

Kathryn
You still have the conflict of evidence-based facts versus faith, but it’s all a little…off from what people usually think of for both.

Elizabeth
But it’s still true in Night Vale that “science” is a thing you can prove and “religion” is a thing you believe. Sure, the science is proving goofy as hell things and the religion is believing supernatural things that are ACTUALLY HAPPENING, but still.
Luisa thought being disappointed in her potatoes would have scientific merit and in the end they saved the day? SCIENCE.

Kathryn
God I loved every bit about Luisa and her potatoes.

Elizabeth
Same here! The whole bit when they’re running from the centipede
Darryl and Nils are trying to figure out what to do, the centipede “continued toward Luisa, who was now yelling something about burying her with her potatoes.”
I can SEE that whole SCENE

Kathryn
A giant centipede that’s trying to eat the whole town except OOPS THAT’S NOT WHAT’S HAPPENING.
The fact that the centipede was entirely innocent, that whole plot point blew my mind.

Elizabeth
As innocent as a giant centipede on a rampage can be I guess.
It’s not it’s FAULT certainly, but didn’t a lot of people still die?

Kathryn
Didn’t Carlos’s experiment drag the centipede into Night Vale in the first place?

Elizabeth
Yes, so even the rampaging wasn’t the centipede’s fault.

Kathryn
Sorry, have to include this one quote,

Look at what my potatoes are doing! For the first time, I’m so proud of them. This ruins my entire experiment.

Elizabeth
Or the whole back and forth when Nills is like “Hey, that’s a little harsh.” “Sorry, that was for the potatoes again.”
Jamillah with her drill though, when everyone’s trying to figure out how to help and she just revved it a couple of times as a suggestion. This book would work wonderfully as a movie.

Kathryn
Agreed. And Nills was a fantastic character to see most of the action through. The way she uses SCIENCE in all her interior monologues. “Hypothesis: Everything is frightening and we should hide.”

Elizabeth
Or when things went bad. “Hypothesis: Well shit.”

Kathryn
Also the fact that she wasn’t QUITE a resident of Night Vale, so she could convey the bewildering wackiness of the town better than someone who was used to it.
Having to deal with the constant “INTERLOPER!” from people when she walked into the room.

Elizabeth
I loved when Carlos was trying to make her feel better about it and told a story about sneezing and everyone pointing at him and yelling and carrying him out into the streets before they put him down, that was their way of saying “Bless you.”
And the helicopter!

Kathryn
OH MY GOD THE HELICOPTER

Elizabeth
THE HUG

Kathryn
Probably one of my favorite parts of the book.
Her teasing the helicopter when it was late to its job of hovering over her at a disaster site.

Elizabeth
Darryl’s having that conversation with her that’s getting increasingly awkward and out of nowhere the helicopter goes “Dude, seriously.”

Kathryn
And the helicopter pilot being so upset about his recent breakup. “I’M NOT ALLOWED TO EXIT THE CRAFT. IT’S A SECRET POLICE VEHICLE AND THERE ARE SECRET POLICE THINGS IN HERE. PLUS I’M SHY.”

Elizabeth
Awwwwwwwwww

Kathryn
God, so freaking delightful.

Elizabeth
Also, Darryl and Nills, did not expect that to go somewhere.

Kathryn
Nope, not really.

Elizabeth
I’m like “She’s going to find him weird and off putting and he’ll awkwardly hit on her and be a bad guy for the church and then….oh, wait, they’re having sex, and they like each other. Nevermind.”

Kathryn
I think it was sweet, but I”m afraid I wasn’t totally buying it.
Not sure why.

Elizabeth
They resolved it in the end pretty darn believably.

Kathryn
Yes, and oddly enough may have been WHY I wasn’t buying it.

Elizabeth
That you never thought the relationship had legs in the first place?

Kathryn
They were drawn together by mutual awkwardness and the fact that they both kind of felt like outsiders even among friends.
But when you got down to it, they didn’t have much in common at all.
The differences that pulled them apart at the end, I guess I felt like that doomed it from the start.
Still thought it was sweet, and I loved the scene of all the paperwork they had to complete before sex.

Elizabeth
So cute.
But he’s mentioning Stephanie all the time and how close they are and how long they’ve known each other and in the end when he says they’re seeing each other I’m all “I KNEW IT.”

Kathryn
Yep, and I hope that works out for him. Definitely a nice guy with his heart in the right place.

Elizabeth
Which I never expected to think.

Kathryn
And that church building, I SO want someone to do fan art of the stained-glass windows.

Elizabeth
With the foxes!

Kathryn
It’s just such a quintessentially Night Vale type of setting, with artwork that’s supposed to convey simple things like birth and friendship and awareness, and the images on the windows don’t seem to have ANYTHING that would link up with those ideas.

Elizabeth
Speaking of which, the bit where they’re putting on the fox masks, and Nils asks what they’re made of, and Stephanie says

“Oh, these are all humanely and ethically made by scooping all the head stuff out of a fox until only the skin is left. It’s harmless to the animal, since we kill them first so they can no longer experience pain or suffering at all.”

I was like “Man, this book gets DARK.”

Kathryn
Yikes.
Yes indeed.

Elizabeth
The phrasing in the book was my favorite though, so many excellent lines.

Kathryn
I’ve got pages and pages of quotable moments highlighted in this book.

Elizabeth
Describing Gordon as “a firm handshake of a man.” That’s brilliant.

Kathryn
Exactly! You know everything you need to about what he’s like just with that one line.

Elizabeth
Or the offhand lines like “…until night became technically morning, although this had more to do with the imperfect labeling created by humans than with any change in the actual nature of the night.”
That’s almost Douglas Adams-esque.

Kathryn
Or Nills finding a parking ticket on her car, “She pulled it off and read it. She had no idea where she was going to get that amount of adult human hair, but she would worry about it later.”
No follow-up, no explanation, just the writers throwing the line at the reader and running.

Elizabeth
Exactly! Like the lost bike poster at the coffee shop: “Have you seen this bike? It never existed in this universe, in this time line. If you have seen this bike, please contact me immediately. I need to return home.”
(I choose to think that’s from the Doctor and I will hear no theories against it.)

Kathryn
Head-cannon accepted!

Elizabeth
The Doctor would ADORE Night Vale.

Kathryn
He would try to figure it out. And he’d be totally unable to. And he’d LOVE that.

Elizabeth
He’d love the angels.

Kathryn
I think he’d highly approve of all the different designations for bathrooms.

Men, Women, No, Unsure, Angels, and This Too Too Solid Flesh.

Elizabeth
Or how the City Council sends empty-eyed kids to deliver warnings. “And you know how long it takes the City Council to come back around and pick them up. We ended up having to give her rides to school for the next three weeks. We’re going to her eighth-grade graduation tomorrow.”
“Oh cute.”
“Supercute.”

Kathryn
Yes! Not just weird, but weird that people accept and deal with in sometimes the sweetest ways!
And they they hit you with something surprisingly thought-provoking.

…understanding the difference between likable and good, and recognizing that one often had no effect on the other.

Elizabeth
Yes! Lot of T-shirt moments.

Sometimes it’s okay to find something beautiful without correctly understanding it.

Kathryn
And random shout-outs. “They despised Capricorns.” HEY.

Elizabeth
Seriously, Night Vale, you’re ALWAYS saying stuff about Capricorns, NOT FAIR.

Kathryn
I remember them trashing garnet as a birthstone in an episode once.
Kick us when we’re down, why don’t you?

Elizabeth
We were already aware that garnets look like muddy rubies LEAVE US ALONE.

Kathryn
I’ll take another comment as a better type of shout-out,
Pamela being asked at a press conference what the city was going to do next, “I can’t speak for the city, but I am hoping to finally read Liu Cixin’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy.
YES, I HEARTILY APPROVE.

Elizabeth
Speaking of thought provoking, they mentioned when Nils was going to her first religious service that “a person doesn’t need experience or knowledge of something to have opinions about it. It turns out all they need for that are opinions.”

Kathryn
I thought this was going to be a complete skewering of religion, but it ended up being very even-handed. The problem was more with Blind Faith than with religion, and blind faith unfortunately gets used with science as well.

Elizabeth
Exactly, they didn’t have a scapegoat for the book other than people who act without thinking or empathy.
And you can be religious or scientific and still have no empathy.

Kathryn
“This American Life” had an episode I should really listen to sometime.
Let me get the title…
“Things I Mean to Know”, that was it. It’s about questioning HOW we know the things we supposedly know.
No one wants to question the things we’re sure about, even if we’re only sure because other people have told us we’re supposed to be sure.
I think that’s why the whole flat-earth business makes me uncomfortable. Sure I KNOW the Earth is round. Just…not really sure I can explain the science behind knowing it.

Elizabeth
Interesting, I’ll have to check that out, is it in the episode about stereotypes? They mentioned that some people think stereotypes are always false, and some that stereotypes are based on a little bit of truth, but the author said every stereotype is based on coincidence.
Speaking of the Earth and science, did you realize we really did have a Weather for the book?

Kathryn
I vaguely remember that passage, what was it again?

Elizabeth
She was listening to the radio, it’s Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles all the Way Down.”

Kathryn
Hee.
I think I need to re-read the first Night Vale book to see if they did the same thing.

Elizabeth
Lot of interesting lines in the song but I liked the last line:
“So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It’s turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own till we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time”
It’s really neither religious nor scientific, he says “Love’s the only thing that ever saved my life.” It’s sweet.

Kathryn
I need to pull that one up.
Now, in amongst the stuff you loved, was there any part that didn’t work as well for you?

Elizabeth
They actually say at one point, when looking at the seismic activity: “The movement doesn’t correspond with your experiments at all.” Except we find out later it ABSOLUTELY corresponded with his experiments. I’m probably misreading it but I felt like early on were were told something that didn’t fit the facts.

Kathryn
There were two arguments that characters used, one for religion and one for not HAVING to believe in the tenants of a religion, and they’re both my LEAST favorite arguments for both.

Elizabeth
Which ones were those?

Kathryn
Well, Darryl talks about how he doesn’t believe in the Devouring anymore, and says “I don’t think I have to. Religion can be something you do, not something you believe. And that can have just as much meaning.”
Which, no.
Don’t buy that.
People who don’t believe are totally and absolutely capable of doing good, being amazing wonderful people, and making the world a better place.

Elizabeth
I felt like it should have been “religion can be something you do not JUST something you believe.”

Kathryn
Yes, definitely.
I just don’t think you can CALL it religion if you don’t believe.
It’s..what would be the point of going to church then?

Elizabeth
I wondered about that, if it was for people who go to church to be part of a community and do good, even if they don’t believe the religion behind it.
Would that be bad?

Kathryn
No, definitely not bad at all. But, not really religion? It doesn’t seem to add any value to CALL it religion.

Elizabeth
More like fellowship I guess.

Kathryn
Quite. I’ve had wonderful fellowship with the awesome people I do Board Game Nights with.
I seriously doubt they’d like me to say they’re part of my religion because they can be Christians without actually believing anything as long as we’re all in a fellowship together.

Elizabeth
I think I’ve never met anyone who went to church who was a complete non-believer, they just liked the people and the chance to do good, so I wonder now if those people exist?

Kathryn
Maybe?

Elizabeth
Darryl would say they do.

Kathryn
It seems like Darryl is part of the Church now because he loves all the people in it and he wants to stay close with them and turn the Church into a force for good.
But how okay would his congregation be with it if he TOLD them that?

Elizabeth
Stephanie and Jamillah would have no problem with it that’s for sure.

Kathryn
Although he specifically says that both of them still believe.

Elizabeth
But WHAT do they believe? They saw the devouring centipede up close AND helped to bring it down, so the religion they grew up with, do they believe THAT, or are they with Daryl that “the prophet Kevin met a centipede and THOUGHT it was the Great Devourer?”
Certainly they all think religion can have some flexibility, which is comforting.

Kathryn
It’s never made clear, is it?
The other argument I didn’t like is when Nills is talking to Darryl about what he believes, and Darryl talks about how believing makes him HAPPY, which is totally valid, but then he says “The story ends the same way, no matter how you choose to perceive it. Why not choose to perceive it as meaningful?”
Which, now that I’ve typed it out it sounds a lot more benign than I first thought.

Elizabeth
Heh, that was actually a line I kind of liked.
I tend to be one of those “I’m not religious I’m spiritual” in that I don’t go to church but I believe there’s something more out there, and I have a LOT of friends who consider themselves atheists, who’ve said that believing in something else is at best a little naive and at worst a terrible deception you’re pulling on yourself. My idea is, if you’re not causing misery in the world, is it bad to think that there’s something after it?

Kathryn
I guess it’s the fact that I’m associating it with that HORRIBLE argument that atheists “should choose to become Christian because they don’t have anything to lose if there’s nothing after death.”
That sort of trying to play both sides.

Elizabeth
Honestly that’s the other side of the coin of the argument, “it doesn’t hurt anyone/you’ve got nothing to lose anyway.”

Kathryn
It’s sort of a gambling thing that I don’t like. It’s as if God is somehow going to be fooled by someone who’s faking it to be safe.
I know a lot of atheists HATE that argument.
What do they have to lose? They have the only life they’ll ever get wasted in a sham that they don’t even believe in?

Elizabeth
I felt like they were speaking directly to atheists in that argument, but not telling them to change THEIR beliefs, but more that they should let other people have their own beliefs. Having had someone try to convince me that you can’t be an intellectual and believe in an afterlife, I liked them having my back.

Kathryn
Ugh, I’m getting my experience from news comment sections.

Elizabeth
Which is why I avoid those like the plague.

Kathryn
There really and truly are people who try to convince atheists that they need to just fake a belief to be safe.

Elizabeth
Bleck!

Kathryn
Quite.
That, I think is the kind of blind faith that the story is warning against.

Elizabeth
The whole book felt very “live and let live” though.

Kathryn
Yes, I think they actually did get that right.

Elizabeth
In the end Darryl and Nils could have a discussion and neither was convinced of the other’s side but it also didn’t make them mad.

Kathryn
Nobody trying to PUSH their belief on someone. Other than Carlos and his complete and total belief that his Science was the only thing that could save the town.

Elizabeth
Man that was weird.
This is not a Carlos I’m familiar with.

Kathryn
Carlos…as the bad guy (in a way).

Elizabeth
WEIRD.
But the weirdness of the book was its best trait, to no one’s surprise.

Kathryn
It was definitely a shock to find out exactly how long he was in the Desert Otherworld.

Elizabeth
SERIOUSLY.
No WONDER he got unhinged about it.

Kathryn
I really hope this carries into the podcast itself.

Elizabeth
I hope a lot of things carry over. I want more of Luisa and Jamillah.

Kathryn
And the helicopter pilot.

Elizabeth
THE HELICOPTER PILOT.
And more angels.
I could listen to descriptions of angels all day.

She smelled something like an enormous heap of pea shoots lit on fire. Green things and ash.

“Erika escaped police custody by flying up and away to the heavens using their great feathered wings. Witnesses said they could hear what sounded like a French horn and a children’s choir.”

Kathryn
And when Erika laughed it sounded “like a fistful of sand thrown at a hardwood floor.”
And it sounds like the angels are the LEAST concerned in town about who goes to what church.

Elizabeth
Which I think is probably a very true statement.

Kathryn

We don’t have angel meetings to discuss who goes to what church. We’re just angels.

I want that to absolutely be the reality of angels.

Elizabeth
I think the average angel has bigger concerns than which service you decided to attend.

Kathryn
I still want to know why they’re always asking for change.

Elizabeth
I feel like that was a random comment somewhere and now it’s become a Thing. They’re ALWAYS asking for money.

Kathryn
Even though they’re technically billionaires.

Elizabeth
Oh, and unrelated note, the scary woman in the Hall of Records???

Kathryn
The one who apparently Ate. The. Records.

Elizabeth
Pitch black hallway opening to a pitch black room with a woman just sitting at a desk in the dark and she keeps appearing in different places until she’s right next to you TWICE, saying the same line just slightly out of sync? I want to see THAT horror movie.

Kathryn
The fact that Pamela Winchell was able to order her to go away tells you something about how scary PAMELA can be.

Elizabeth
Pamela is way crazier than I ever realized, and I ALWAYS thought she was crazy.

Kathryn
Which makes me love that scene even more when Nills accuses her of causing the town to be devoured, and Pamela’s feelings are actually HURT that Nills would say that.

Elizabeth
I guess you don’t become Night Vale’s mayor without caring deeply about the town AND being fairly nuts. Which makes me wonder what Dana’s future will be like.

Kathryn
I could guess, but with this creative team’s track record I’ll probably be COMPLETELY wrong.

Elizabeth
I’ve had a lot of people ask me if they really can read the book without listening to the episodes. I tend to think you’d have a better time reading this book without listening to the episodes than you would listening to an episode without listening to ALL the episodes.
(Not that you can’t do that too.)

Kathryn
I really want to hear someone’s opinion of this book if they haven’t listened to all the episodes.
Or any episodes.
“Municipal holidays with startling casualty rates.” What?

Elizabeth
“D-Day was when we won the war because we told the Germans they couldn’t come over and pet our dogs any more.” Aww. And what?
The Wizard of Oz Diorama where Dorthy is in the war balloon firebombing Kansas. I WANT THAT MOVIE.

Kathryn
Dorthy as a tragic, ruthless heroine. Someone needs to write that story.

Elizabeth
“There’s no longer a place like home. There’s no longer a place like home.”

Kathryn
Night Vale is like a virus, it has a way of affecting EVERYTHING.

Elizabeth
I’d watch their version of the Superman movies ANY day.
Maybe that’ll be the next diorama made for Larry Leroy’s Public Museum of Art, Out On the Edge Of Town?

Kathryn
Let’s hope so.