The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home has been a regular character on the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for approaching ten years, but we have never known much about her. That has all changed with the release of the third Welcome to Night Vale novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which is all about this mysterious and terrifying character.
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The story of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home spans several hundred years and is told in chapters that alternate between her early life and her activities over the last decade, although the whole book is told from her perspective and indeed, the audiobook edition is narrated by Mara Wilson, who plays the titular character in the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. Since 2011 she has been manipulating the life of a Night Vale resident named Craig—clearing his debts, scaring away unsuitable dates, and occasionally setting his shoes on fire. These more recent chapters are very short, yet some of the most disturbing, and it will take until the end of the book until it becomes clear how they relate to the rest of the story.
The vast majority of the story is told over five long chapters beginning with “An Estate By The Sea, 1792 – 1805.” Here we begin with the birth of the Faceless Old Woman in a boat on the Mediterranean. Her mother—a noblewoman from a family who has fallen in status—died in childbirth, leaving her to be raised by her father and his close friend and business associate Edmund.
As she grows, she learns that her father and Edmund run a small smuggling operation which she yearns to be a part of. Their business grows well, avoiding trouble from rival groups, the royal guard, and the mysterious Order of the Labyrinth, whose ships sail up and down with hooded crew members carrying crates which emit a strange glow. However, eventually, they receive word that the Order is coming for them and a fire at their estate results in the death of her father.
From this point on, the Faceless Old Woman (whose true name we never learn) has to set out into the world. Initially, with Edmund by her side, she becomes a part of the criminal underworld. Working with her family’s former rivals, The Duke’s Own, she rises in confidence and forms her own small gang with those she trusts absolutely—the dandyish Andre, powerful Lora, and master of disguise Rebekah—but throughout all her travels she always has one ultimate goal in mind: to infiltrate the Order of the Labyrinth and kill the person responsible for her father’s death…
The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home is wildly different from any of the other Night Vale novels that have come before it. For one, very little of it is actually set in Night Vale itself. The book is largely a historical fiction novel and the story takes place all over Europe including France, Spain, Russia, and the fictional nations of Svitz, Franchia, and Luftnarp. It’s also probably the least “weird” Night Vale novel yet. The vast majority of characters and events are fairly normal, but it is this surface-level normality that makes the weirder elements seem all the more unsettling. At times, it is easy to forget that you are reading a Night Vale novel and so these odd moments can take you by surprise.
By the end of the book, I was feeling more and more uncomfortable with every passing page as everything that ever happened to the Faceless Old Woman over several hundred years came together in a horrifying conclusion. Events from earlier in the book were cast into a new light and I had that disconcerting feeling of having the rug pulled out from under my feet more times than I could count. The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home has always been a character who can get under your skin because it is difficult to understand her motives. By the end of the book, those motives are far more understandable, but the nature of them means that she is possibly even more terrifying than she was at the beginning.
While I felt like I knew much more about the Faceless Old Woman by the time I finished her story, I also didn’t. Throughout the book, we never learn her name, the country she came from, or much about her looks back when she did have a face. The nature of her transformation into the creature we know as The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home is also left deliberately ambiguous, adding to the unsettling nature of the conclusion. I did feel like the end of the book wasn’t quite as well-paced as the earlier sections. Years skipped by at once—sometimes decades—which threw out the pacing for me, although I understood why the choice had to be made.
All in all, though, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home might well be my favorite of all the Night Vale novels so far. I’ll admit I struggled to get into it at the beginning, mostly because it was so different from all that had come before, but once I got into the style, I found myself being kept awake wanting to read more. The book definitely veers closer to horror than much of Night Vale and doesn’t have the comedy element present throughout the podcast. Because of this it felt closer to Joseph Fink’s Alice Isn’t Dead than Night Vale itself.
You don’t need to be a Night Vale fan to enjoy The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home—although some of the references will naturally pass you by. In fact, this might be a great choice for introducing newbies to the show, and it even ends with a short guide for new fans looking to experience more from the Night Vale universe. Existing fans will love getting to know some backstory to this beloved character. I already want to listen back to old episodes of the show to see if my new knowledge changes my interpretation of events.
The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home is a strange book that will leave you unsettled and wary of unexpected movements in the corner of your eye for days after you finish it, and I loved it for that.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.