Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
We’re fans of classic film here at borg (remember when we stumbled into the oldest movie theater in the world?) and the history of motion pictures (like George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, his lost film, and several vintage films). Now one of our favorite authors celebrates the heyday of these early movies with Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen. Anne Nesbet’s new historical fiction adventure for young readers, Daring Darleen follows the exploits of twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the cliffhanger serials, “The Dangers of Darleen.”
It’s 1914 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Darleen Darling spends her days dangling from ropes, jumping off trains, and foiling the villainous Salamanders crime syndicate, while her dedicated filmmaking family captures it all with their state-of-the-art motion picture cameras. Her inventive aunt proposes a publicity stunt to promote her new serial adventures: Darleen will be kidnapped, and the cameras will be on hand to capture all the (manufactured) drama.
…Except it all goes awry, when Darleen accidentally falls in with the wrong kidnappers–not the extras hired by her family, but actual villains really kidnapping an innocent girl who is decidedly not acting, Victorine Berryman, heiress to the Berryman fortune. Thanks to Darleen’s timely intervention, everyone’s plans are wildly derailed, in the spirit of the best period melodrama.
Expect lots of Death-Defying Feats! Mistaken Identities! Long-Lost Relations! And Mysterious Wills as Darleen and Victorine’s adventure rolls along. Nesbet, a film historian by day, delights in bringing this world to life for young readers, sharing the thrill of the technology and art of the new filmmaking process. Full of rich and surprising details of life in the movie industry, including fascinating glimpses at everything from set design to special effects, Daring Darleen evokes a bygone era of artistry and acting, making it relevant to readers more than a century later.
Darleen and Victorine are an unexpected and endearing pair of heroines whose strengths embolden and encourage each other, while Nesbet’s prose is sprightly, funny, and reassuring, bringing real heart to the most unreal and delightfully improbable of misadventures. An afterword offers further resources about the real figures and technology depicted in the novel.