It’s impossible for me to imagine how I would view this book without first listening to the Night Vale podcast show... For that matter, it is impossible for me to imagine Night Vale. It is impossible to imagine. Do not imagine anything... The Secret Police are listening...
For the uninitiated: Welcome to Night Vale is a sci-fi/comedy/horror podcast series that’s aired twice a month since 2012 (wow, has it been that long already?). The series is narrated by Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Night Vale’s public radio station, who tells the community about strange happenings in town. No matter how weird everything is (for example: miniature armies, monster librarians, and an almighty, glowing cloud that drops dead animals on people) it’s played with a straight face, like sure, this strangeness is odd and alarming, yes… but it’s also just the usual day-to-day for a universe as messed up as ours. And that’s what I find interesting about the series: it uses these WEIRD ideas to tell very human stories about love, loss, depression, acceptance, and other big, important topics.
Welcome to Night Vale is nearly impossible for me to review. It’s one of those things that’s best experienced for yourself. If you liked the podcast, you’ll probably enjoy the book. If you didn’t like the podcast, the book ain’t gonna change your mind any. I’m a fan of Welcome to Night Vale. I’ve been listening to the show years. There are times (including recently) where I fall behind, but something about the series keeps drawing me back.
Though it’s been said too often about too many things, I think it’s fair to say that Welcome to Night Vale is a one-of-a-kind experience (or, at the very least, the first of its kind—I do believe others have tried to duplicate what Night Vale’s done, with varying degrees of success). Like most things that are so unique, it requires a unique sort of audience. Welcome to Night Vale is not for everyone. It might not be for you. And that’s fine. Me and my strange dog like it just fine. At least, I think he’s a dog? He might be a crow. I’m not sure.
The audio series focuses on broadcaster Cecil Baldwin and while Cecil has a supporting part in the book, the real focus here is on two women who are connected by a man in a tan jacket and the mystery of a place called KING CITY. A lot of other familiar characters pop up, like Carlos, the angels who are all named Erika, and the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home. As strange as a story as this is, writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor craft a complete mystery, one that not only answers many of its own questions, but also addresses questions that have been left unanswered for years in the podcast.
I didn’t read the book, rather I listened to the audiobook which features much of the podcast’s voices and is narrated by Cecil Baldwin. Just like I feel it’s impossible to visit the book without first being introduced to the podcast, I also feel it’s impossible to visit the strange town of Night Vale without Cecil Baldwin as my guide. I don’t mean to dis either Fink or Cranor’s prose, but I feel like the audiobook is the natural choice for fans of the series.
I really liked this book. But I’m not giving it my highest rating or recommendation. Here’s why: Night Vale is a very strange place and I’d like to visit but I’d never want to live there. The audio series can be listened to for 30 minutes at a time, which amounts to a brief but fully enjoyable visit. The book feels more like renting a spot in the weirdo universe as it doesn’t let you go quite as easily as the podcast does. It’s almost too much at times and I was happy to set it aside for a few days before resuming the story.
In the end, though, it’s easy to recommend this to fellow fans of the podcast. I personally recommend the audiobook, though whatever format you choose will result in a one-of-a-kind story full of mystery, humor, and the unexplainable.
Welcome to Night Vale is available on Kindle, hardcover, and audiobook from Amazon and other fine booksellers.
Holy crap. Brother is a book that lets you think you know what’s going down. I did. I thought I was one step ahead of everything, seeing twists coming like a home run slugger sees his favorite pitch – I know where this ball’s headed, I might as well point to the wall and swing. Then the ball drops – my eyes widen – the ball does a weird corkscrew thing like an X-Wing on approach – I start to sweat – it speeds up, it slows down, it winks at me – what the what – it crosses the plate and I stand there like a big dope, unsure of what I’ve just witnessed, somehow both impressed and disturbed.
I JUST USED WEIRD BASEBALL ANALOGIES TO DESCRIBE A BOOK ABOUT SERIAL KILLERS AND CHILD ABDUCTION.
Let’s break it down. Ania Ahlborn’s Brother is about a backwoods family in Appalachia that murders women they think no one will bother to remember. They do it to satisfy primal urges, each of them the victims of some kind of abuse. It’s like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre clan but with more of a look behind the curtain so that you may understand their madness. When young Rebel decides to abduct a child from the side of the road instead of a dog, little Michael becomes the new family pet. But try as Rebel might, Michael is never quite like the others. It’s a dark coming-of-age story with the fear that Michael may grow up to be a monster and the hopeless dream of escaping it all.
It’s messed up stuff.
Backwoods, redneck horror scares me more than most horror subgenres. It is stories like Brother that keep me from exploring the roads that lead behind the trees in certain regions. I think it’s because these horrors exist whereas zombies are a rare sight in the world of today (I’m not counting out future apocalypses, though).
The way the characters see fit to justify their depravity was an unexpected horror. Michael is the closest the reader gets to having a guide through the horrors but by the time we know him he is a party to the bloodshed. It’s claustrophobic being surrounded by killers for an entire story. There is a blink of white light as Michael falls for a normal girl in town but even that has an ugly nature to it, as he imagines her dead at the hands of the family.
Brother never feels like a ‘plotted’ book. It feels character-driven and nasty on a level that’s all too real. But by the end Ania Ahlborn reveals that everything’s connected, everything’s been carefully thought out. It’s a magic trick that makes you want to go back, discover the sleight of hand, and see how the story plays out differently now that you’re wise to its devious intentions.
Brother is now available on Kindle and paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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