Today I have reached the final Nancy Drew review for the Halloween season and it’s a bit weird. This book is a prequel set before the events of the Nancy Drew TV show that aired on The CW for four seasons. Now usually, a book set before the events of this show would be perfect as The CW show did dabble in the supernatural and the occult yet this book seems to read as a regular Nancy Drew book that is barely attached to the show.
Ostow seems to be a go-to for tie-in books for various YA series as she has also written books for Riverdale and Buffy.
I can see and I have read some of her work for Archie Horror and she does an excellent job with the Archie characters. This is also true of her take on Nancy as the way she writes Nancy very much feels like the Nancy that Kennedy McMann played for four seasons on television. This is no easy feat considering Ostow had to find the balance of Nancy for readers who might be Nancy Drew fans that have never seen the show and more importantly for fans of the show, who are going to be critical of if Nancy reads like the version they know from the TV show or not. Ostow does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the TV show as there is always a sense of moodiness and broodiness to the show and she captures it quite well. There is also a darkness to the show with secrets waiting to be revealed. However, it’s not like Riverdale where the seediness is all the show has going for it. But rather that there is a darkness hanging over Horseshoe Bay and Nance. This is something that serves as a bit of a tragic foreshadowing for the audience as Nancy’s mother is alive but by the time the show starts, her mother has passed away. And it takes Nancy a long time to learn to be happy again. Ostow does a great job of showing us how much the Drew family cares for one another and that makes it a bit of a gut punch knowing her mother will soon die and there is nothing Nancy can do.
Perhaps the biggest praise I can give Ostow is how she captures the voice of McMann’s Nancy. McMann’s Nancy is someone who uses snark as a shield to hide her emotions and will not believe in things that she cannot see. Ostow captures that with Nancy quite well and I think it is beneficial that this story is told from the perspective of Nancy as it allows the reader into the mind of Nancy which is always curious as again Nancy doesn’t easily let people and will hide her emotions.
The cover does a great job of drawing you in with Nancy looking holding her flashlight with the forest behind her. There is a mixture of determination and fear on Nance’s face as though she uncovered something big that she wasn’t supposed to come across. Also again, I cannot give enough praise for how much the cover artist captured the likeness of Kennedy McMann’s Nancy Drew. I cannot overstate enough that McMann is my favorite person to play Nancy Drew. McMann brought modern sensibilities to Nance while honoring what the women who wrote the original books created. There have been more accurate takes on Nancy by other actors but McMann brought so much wit and vulnerability to the famous girl detective and as I mentioned in the author section, we get that in the book as well.
While I do have a lot of praise for the book and how well it handles McMann’s Nancy the supernatural element doesn’t align with what we know from the show. The whole conceit of the book is built around an event called Naming Day that celebrates the founding of Horseshoe Bay and one of Nance’s friends is ecstatic when she is cast in the Naming Day reenactment. Oh, that is something I should mention these friends aren’t Bess and George as before the events of the show, George and Nance don’t get along and I don’t believe Bess had even moved to Horseshoe Bay during the events of the prequel. It is a little weird to read this prequel book and not see the Drew Crew.
Sure, there’s a scene involving George and Nancy interacting at The Claw, the hangout from the show but that lasts for maybe a paragraph if even that. In some ways that makes the connection to the TV show feel rather teneous. Do not misunderstand me as I think this is a good book but it’d be better if it wasn’t attached to the TV show as attaching to the TV show meant the audience was going to expect something different from a standard Nancy Drew book that is just a regular mystery.
Getting back to the plot of the book, after Nancy’s friend is cast in the Naming Day celebration, she becomes a target of weird happenings such as a dead bird being placed within her locker and other strange occurrences that many believe are tied to the aforementioned curse and again this is where you think the supernatural element might come in but no, it doesn’t and at one point dismisses the mystery of Lucy Sable aka Dead Lucy whose murder was the central point of the first season of the show.
I don’t believe this is meant to undercut the paranormal aspect of the show as this takes place a couple of years before the show and Nance has yet to embrace the world of the supernatural. This is evident in the blurb on the back of the book.
I believe in small towns, salty air, and yes, even the dark secrets that my friends and neighbors carry with them. But legends? Tall Tales? curuses? No. A Curse is just a mystery dressed up in a sharp, stern warning. And everyone knows that I love a mystery.
Again, this is exciting and does make the book seem like it gets the Nancy Drew from the television series but there’s just that small piece missing. I normally wouldn’t do this but to get into my frustrations with this book, I have to get a bit into spoilers. The people targeting Nancy’s friend the friend of her family, are a cult that believes there is a curse attached to Naming Day.
The Naming Day curse, yes,… Local lore—obscure though it may be and not by accident–says that a group of youths from the first settled colony went missing without a trace. But what’s always left out of the tale is that the man meant to have caused the disappearance—
He was a Dewitt
Exactly, Jonathan was wrongly persecuted. He was innocent.
I see what the book is aiming for, I really do as the final season did something with Horseshoe Bay atoning for the sins of the past, and that in of itself is a great concept but there’s just a spark missing to make the book click. The show has also dabbled in families hiding secrets and cults before. There was a cult introduced in the second season to set up the ill-fated Tom Swift spinoff called The Road Back that had political ties everywhere.
Something such as that could have been interesting that’s where you run into a problem with prequel tie-ins, the characters Nancy goes up against in this book never make an appearance in the show. Knowing that there isn’t anything supernatural is a bit disappointing considering the show this is meant to tie into. Something that could have worked in my opinion is to have the ghost of Johnathan DeWitt subtly guide Nancy in clearing his name. This would be similar to how Lucy Sable helped Nance by guiding her to solve both her death and finding the murderer of Tiffany Hudson in the first season but ghosts and the supernatural are a key part of this series.
That would’ve been something that could have tied this book back to the series it is meant to serve as a prequel to.
My Final Thoughts
I’m conflicted as a Nancy Drew book, this is fine but as a a Nancy Drew book that is meant to be a prequel to The CW show it falls a tad short. It’s not a bad book but there are just certain elements missing from it that would help it to align with the TV show. Again, this is not to say it’s a bad book as it isn’t but tying it to the TV show set it up for expectations that the book just doesn’t deliver on. Again, it’s not bad but I do think it could be so much better. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my journey looking at these various Nancy Drew books this year. I’ll probably do this again in the future as I had so much fun looking at books featuring my favorite detective.