REVIEW: “The Buying of Lot 37” and “Who’s a Good Boy?” Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volumes 3 & 4, by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink

wtnv-3-4In case it isn’t clear, I love Welcome to Night Vale. I love the novels, I love the live shows, I love the podcast, and I love these script books, too. I always have trouble focusing on audio-only stories, so I find that having the scripts for podcasts such as Welcome to Night Vale really helps me follow the podcast and understand all that is going on within it. Add to these extremely useful scripts a bunch of illustrations and a whole lot of behind the scenes tidbits, and you’ve got a collection of published scripts that any Night Vale fan would love. This proved true for the first two volumes of script books and it absolutely proves true for this new set, too. A note: I have previously reviewed years three and four of Welcome to Night Vale in earlier blog posts, so, rather than review the scripts of these books themselves, I will shortly recap my review of each of the seasons prior to moving onto what’s specific to these two novels.

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novels It Devours! and Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a collection of episodes from Seasons Three and Four of their hit podcast, featuring an introduction by the authors, a foreword by Dessa, behind-the-scenes commentary, and original illustrations.

The Buying of Lot 37 brings Season Three of the podcast to book form. With foreword by recording artist and author Dessa, introductions by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, insightful behind-the-scenes commentary by cast members and supporters, and beautiful illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompanying each episode, this book is both an entertaining reading experience and an absolute must-have for any fan of the podcast.

And, with Who’s a Good Boy?, Season Four of the podcast is available in book form, offering a valuable reference guide to past episodes. Featuring a foreword by twitter personality and highly regarded author Jonny Sun, original introductions by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, fascinating behind-the-scenes commentary by cast members and supporters, and gorgeous illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompanying each episode, this book will thrill fans of the podcast and those new to the amazing universe of Night Vale.

First is The Buying of Lot 37 – covering episodes 50-70A/70B of the podcast. In The Buying of Lot 37, Cecil deals with the stress put on his relationship with Carlos by Carlos being trapped in a desert otherworld and the fear and anger that comes from being used against his will to repeatedly save Mayor Dana Cardinal. Who bought Lot 37 and is controlling Cecil? Who keeps attacking the mayor? When will Carlos come home? For me, this season of the podcast was one of those seasons that started off fairly slow before eventually picking up momentum and moving at the speed of a freight train. The first half of the season, or so, consists mainly of stand-alone episodes. There’s a reference or two to the ongoing plotline (and as I’ve picked up on in this re-read, quite a few hints for things that will happen in the Welcome to Night Vale novel; The Man in the Tan Jacket makes appearances throughout the season where he’s trying to show people where he’s from and tries to give Cecil a piece of paper with something written on it) scattered throughout those first several episodes, but for the most part they’re pretty stand-alone. That’s not a bad thing, though. Stand-alone episodes often end up becoming my favorite and The Buying of Lot 37 contains one of my favorite episodes – “The September Monologues”. These stand-alone episodes are great ways to break up the potential monotony of the ongoing storylines while allowing the show the opportunity to expand the world some.

As for the storyline itself, it’s an interesting one. Probably the most introspective of all the Night Vale arcs thus far. I particularly like how Cecil struggles with his love for his town and his love for Carlos and all the things that he’s dealing with throughout the season. For the first two seasons, Cecil’s pretty much been the strong constant throughout everything, so seeing him vulnerable like this and questioning things he believes in makes for interesting drama. I appreciated the mostly-positive depiction of long-distance relationships that they do with Cecil and Carlos in this episode. Sure, most people in long distance relationships aren’t living in two different realities, but still. That’s what Night Vale does best; it takes a relatable concept and tangles it up in fantastical elements. So, yeah, Carlos is trapped in a desert otherworld, but the audience can empathize with the very real struggles he and Cecil have to go through in order to make their relationship work with these new constraints. The finale itself is really strong. In particular, the bit where Carlos explains to Cecil that “Night Vale” is just a name for the place where all of Cecil’s loved ones are. So wherever those loved ones are is where Cecil’s home is. Yeah, it’s basically a take on the “home is where the heart is” cliche, but it’s true. Very rarely is home a set of walls; it’s a place where you feel safe and supported and loved. And that’s the point of this season. Cecil and Carlos both have to learn where their home is, and by the end of the season, they’ve learned it. (Although, the big twist on who bought Lot 37 is a really fun one and having the opportunity to re-read these scripts with the knowledge of who bought Cecil made for a really fun experience.

Next is Who’s a Good Boy?, covering episodes 71-90 of the podcast. In Who’s a Good Boy?, Night Vale faces a threat so terrifying that there seems to be nothing they can do to defeat it: a terribly cute beagle puppy and his army of tall, faceless strangers who only stand and breathe. Hiram McDaniels faces trials for his crimes against Mayor Cardinal, Desert Bluffs and Night Vale become one city, and all of Night Vale is under threat from one cute puppy who may not be all that he seems. This season is probably my second favorite season, after season two. The first few episodes of this season are mostly one-offs, leading up to the release of the first Night Vale novel and its accompanying tie-in episode (which was itself a great episode and also great promotion for the novel). But after that episode, the plotline for the season really kicks it into high gear with the introduction of the tall strangers who only stand and breathe and never seem to move, but somehow get closer than you thought they originally were. This concept alone is the stuff of nightmares. The way it’s executed and resolved in the season continues to be creepy as hell. As usual, there are some experimental episodes like episode 73: Triptych, which gives Kevin (the radio host from Desert Bluffs and one of the main antagonists in season two) some much-needed backstory and character development; The April Monologues (which furthers the ongoing plotline in a really unique way that I loved); and Lost in the Mail (which primarily focuses on the relationship between a girl and her father who’s gone off to fight in the Blood-Space War – a storyline that seems to have become important, again, during this latest season), but much of this season is really focused on advancing the plotline. More than any other season so far, this one really feels like a serial. Things happen in one episode that are often directly followed up in the next episode, and I love it.

This season deals with some of the fallout from Night Vale Community Radio’s insanely high mortality rate for its interns as former interns Maureen and Chad team together to usher in this evil beagle and his deadly plans into existence. I wish more of the season had been dedicated to exploring the fallout of the deaths of all the interns, but I like that the concept was explored at all. Maureen’s increased role in the season was also nice, giving her character some development served the show well as it gave another interesting female character to the audience and one who wasn’t terribly fond of Cecil, at that. Additionally, this season leans more into horror than last season did. Last season dealt a lot with interpersonal drama and relationship woes between Cecil and Carlos. This season really feels like its goal is to scare the pants off of the audience, and it succeeds. The first part of the two-part finale, Who’s A Good Boy?, is perhaps one of the creepiest and uncomfortable things I’ve ever listened to. It was the first time that Night Vale had really actually scared me. Kudos to Cecil Baldwin’s acting in that episode and Fink and Cranor’s writing.

These script books feature some great illustrations from frequent Night Vale artist, Jessica Hayworth. Her art perfectly captures the surreal, cosmic horror that is frequently found in the Night Vale world. She sticks to the motto of never really showing what any of the main characters or locations look like, choosing instead to illustrated some of the horrors that get described in each episode. Every episode has at least one illustration from Hayworth – though, often, there end up being multiple illustrations per episode. Her illustrations, however, are not the only new material that can be found in these script books. Each episode features an introduction by someone involved with the making of that episode. Whether it’s one of the main writers – Joseph Fink or Jeffrey Cranor, a guest writer, or an actor/performer, each episode features insight from someone involved in the creation of it and that insight is just as valuable to fans of the podcast as the scripts themselves will be. I always find it massively interesting hearing from the people who made a work of art what was going through their heads as they made it. Their opinions might not influence my interpretation of their art, but it is always nice to hear from them and these behind the scenes insights are every bit as good as you’d want them to be.

All in all, The Buying of Lot 37 and Who’s a Good Boy? are great additions to the growing library of Night Vale books. The scripts contained within these books showcase the massive amount of experimentation that happened within the third and fourth years of the podcast, allowing fans old and new access to this wonderful year’s worth of stories while providing older fans with lots of new material to sink their teeth into. I love Night Vale and I love these script books and I hope that HarperCollins continues publishing them.

Both books get 5 out of 5 wands.

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