Fiction, Reviews

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

The book, sitting on a wooden plank. Behind it, a brick wall is visible, with a window.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In my rage, I can be anywhere, do anything. Vengeance is my path, and I must never once veer from it.

*There may be spoilers in the content warning section below, above the summary. Tread lightly!*

Published: March 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Representation: LGBTQIA2S+ (WLW, Asexual/Aromantic spectrum)
Content Warning: violence; blood; death of a loved one; blaming oneself for the death of a parent; knife violence; body horror; murder; mutilation; gun violence; betrayal by a family member/friend; near death experience; fear of failing; mild sexual content; trauma.

Summary

NOTE: We are providing the summary, BUT we recommend you go into this book totally blind (besides what we’ve mentioned in our review, of course). It’s way more fun/substantially more shocking if you have no context! We approached it that way, and we highly recommend it.

In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

Part The Haunting of Hill House, part The Count of Monte Cristo, and 100% about a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.

— summary from The Storygraph

Review

Looking for a freewheeling action-adventure, full of suspense, and with unconventional protagonists battling absolutely infuriating antagonists? Look no further! 

We’re going to preface this review by saying: we’re going to be super vague. But trust us, there’s not a lot we can do about that without completely spoiling parts of the story for you (which we don’t want to do). So instead, we’ll stick to random flavour text to help you get a sense of the tone of the book. Could we have gone without reviewing this book, if that was going to be the case? Absolutely not. 💁🏻💁🏽‍♀️ This novel is an experience, and we think more people should read it.

And this book, oh my gosh. It hooks you from the beginning, in the weirdest way possible (albeit not so weird if you’re a fan of Night Vale) and keeps you in with the brilliant storytelling. It’s so hard not to get hooked even as you’re confused, and wow, does it keep you feeling SO MANY EMOTIONS throughout. This is one of those books that sticks with you long after you’ve put it down. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor come in hot with their signature tongue-in-cheek humour, and they’ve really outdone themselves this time!

Like any reasonable human, I do not like harming innocent people, but like any reasonable human, I do not consider the wealthy to be innocent people.

We do want to be upfront to all Welcome to Night Vale fans that this book is largely not set in Night Vale, and has a very different tone from the podcast or the other novels. We think they did an excellent job, but we have seen a lot of criticism of the novel based solely on the fact that it didn’t feel Night Vale enough. Please – if you’re going to pick up this book and you’re a WTNV fan, don’t go into it with the assumption that it’s going to “feel” Night Vale-y. It won’t, but it’s still absolutely brilliant, and it deserves an assessment free of any bias that may come from their other content. It’s an origin story for the eponymous character, who has until now been shrouded in mystery. Take it as it is, and trust us. It’s a story fit for the woman herself.

If you’re not a WTNV fan, don’t worry about it! Take this novel for itself, not the rest of the world, if that’s what you choose to do. It’s intended to be a standalone, and it doesn’t need to be read in conjunction with the other novels or the podcast. We’re certain that you’ll enjoy this novel if our pitch appeals to you at all. We’re more than certain, actually. 

Jump into the story of a mysterious protagonist and her ragtag group of loyal followers, living a life of organized crime underscored with an unshakable resolve for vengeance. While it is a historical fiction, it is much more fast-paced and demanding than your typical historical fiction, with a storytelling style reminiscent of (and indeed, preceding) The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s a mode of storytelling that jumps between time periods, as the eponymous, unnamed character is a centuries-old being who has seen the world in many of its forms, and experienced more than any of us would ever want to. The story is as unsettling as it is endearing (because you know one of our favourite tropes is found family!), it’s as warm and fuzzy as it is completely cutthroat and bloodthirsty. It’s at times poetic and haunting, in that heart-wrenching way that makes it a complete emotional rollercoaster. It’s weird in the best way. It is filled with dark humour, and it forces you to confront harsh realities.

If you’re a fan of audiobooks, we wholeheartedly recommend the audio version. It’s narrated by Mara Wilson (yes, that Mara Wilson), and she does an incredible job. She really elevates the eerie vibes of the book, breathing the story to life and engaging you in a way that leads you to sink further and further into the story without even realizing it. It’s almost intimate: it’s like she’s telling you her story, that you’re the only one privy to this information. If we hadn’t already described this book as “an experience,” Mara’s narrating on its own would’ve given it that status. (Also, Mara is objectively amazing. We’d recommend reading her blog and her book).

If any of this sounds good to you, we recommend you pick it up. Joseph and Jeffrey were hugely disadvantaged by the fact that their book was released just after the start of the pandemic. We thought this book was phenomenal, and it deserves recognition for that!

One more thing… usually we’re all about promoting books with happily-ever-afters, but if that’s what you’re looking for, definitely don’t pick up this book. This isn’t it. You will not find a happy ending here – you’ll find a haunting one that sticks with you long after you’ve completed the book.

There’s a thin line separating humor and horror, and this was that line.

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