So Nancy Drew's been around since 1930 and over the course of that time has seen a few different portrayals and incarnations--depending on the specific editors and ghost-writers involved, and the specific series in question (with classic Nancy Drew being aimed at younger readers, the "Nancy Drew Files" aimed at teens, and so on). After the end of the original series, Nancy Drew rebooted with the "Girl Detective" series, but when sales flagged (mostly because the characters were too different to hold the interest of longtime readers), it was rebooted again with this "Nancy Drew Diaries" series.
This first novel, "Curse of the Arctic Star," is actually the first of a two-part story involving a couple of interwoven mysteries to kick off the new continuity with: it should therefore be read back-to-back with the second book, "Strangers on a Train." Assuming that most people know who Nancy Drew is (which is a safe enough assumption), we kick off with our amateur sleuth being requested to go undercover as a contest-winning passenger aboard Superstar Cruises' brand new Alaskan cruiseliner, the Arctic Star. Threatening e-mails and unfortunate happenings have been plaguing the company for a little while, and Nancy is tasked with discreetly discovering the who, what, and why so that Superstar Cruises can avoid the kind of bad publicity that sinks their kind of business for good. Nancy, joined by her best friends and series mainstays Bess and George (short for Georgia), embark on this cruise expecting there to be not much real mystery at all, but no sooner do they board the ship than someone dumps a mannequin and a tub of pink juice-mix into the public pool... momentarily spooking passengers into believing a dead body has been found on the ship before the ship even leaves port. More incidents follow, and with several possible suspects and quite a few angles to follow, it's an interesting enough mystery.
That said, as someone who quite likes the classic 1930s Nancy Drew, there are some elements lost here. The book is about the same length as those old novels, but dwells more on individual details and character moments than those ones would have--the result being that there's less time for adventure and mystery, and the story ends up feeling more bare than it could. In addition, the "classic" Nancy Drew projected a definite feeling of wit, intelligence, competence, and bravery, and you could tell as you read those older stories that she was gradually working things out. In this mystery, clues are more blatantly telegraphed, allowing younger readers to pick up on what's going on and probably come to some correct conclusions before the big reveal. But Nancy herself is written as awkward and a bit stumbling, mostly dwelling on suspects who are unlikely at best. On top of that, not a lot happens during the course of the book, at least compared to those earlier novels where twists and turns were abundant, so the whole book ends up feeling like a languid talk-a-thon rather than an adventure. Perhaps this was done to cater to parents who find it to be "too much" when a book for young girls has too much of an element of danger? Either way, it's very... safe and cozy most of the time, and Nancy, rather than being written as a keen (ha) detective, has more of a slapdash Harry Potter feeling, where she spends a lot of time mulling over things but doesn't catch onto the truth until a reveal and eureka moment at the very end of the story. The main source of intrigue also comes at the end, when it's revealed there are two mysteries and that the sleuth's duty aboard the Arctic Star isn't quite over yet--but whatever payoff that might bring is to be found in book two.
On the plus side, the writing style's pretty enjoyable, even if characterization is pretty flat. Longtime fans might find some things worth disliking in these current portrayals (for example, Nancy being more awkward and less competent as a sleuth; George still being tomboyish but being more of a computer-and-Internet nut in place of an athletic girl as she was in previous iterations). But insofar as being a good book for young girls, I'd say it's more than adequate. It just lacks the general sense of... adventure and heroism that the older Nancy Drew books, especially the earliest volumes, imbued the character with. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing to a given parent is something I'll leave to individual discretion.
Regarding the quality of the hardcover edition, it's quite nice. It has the same general construction feel as the hardcover Harry Potter novels, and the cover art on the dust-jacket is very vibrant and lively--the cover art is probably the best thing about this Diaries series, honestly. It's definitely worth collecting these books in hardcover. As books for younger audiences tend to, this book keeps the word-count-per-page pretty low to avoid intimidating readers, which is standard for Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.
- Hardcover: 188 pages
- Publisher: Aladdin (5 February 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1442466103
- ISBN-13: 978-1442466104
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 318 g
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