I am Princess X is the YA debut of steampunk author Cherie Priest. I happened to stumble upon it at the library after seeing it recommended by some bloggers.
May is a young teenager living in Seattle with her parents when her best friend Libby dies in a tragic car accident. Three years later she’s back in Seattle with her dad when she begins to notice street art featuring Princess X, a character that she created with Libby as children. She becomes convinced that Libby is still alive and, what’s more, is sending her secret messages through the popular webcomic, I am Princess X.
This book is a fascinating mix of novel and graphic novel; it regularly features whole strips from the Princess X comic as May tries to dissect its secrets and discover Libby’s true fate. The artwork is incredible and fits the story perfectly. I felt like there was some manga influence in the drawing style and layout, which works thematically, considering that Libby originally conceived Princess X as looking like herself (half-Japanese) and wielding a katana.
The setting is contemporary and urban, but the Princess X comic features a lot of fantasy elements. I loved the crossover between real-life Seattle and the fantasy world of Silverdale, home of Princess X. It adds a layer of surrealness (surreality? someone help me out here) to the mystery/thriller aspect of the story.
This story is not long, and it’s so engaging that I read it straight through in one evening. The plot unfolds beautifully, everything in its place, though perhaps a bit simple and convenient at times. The “hacking” and other tech elements of the story are perhaps not perfect, but they’re not laughably bad either.
The characters are great, too (Jackdaw was my favorite). Princess X’s antagonist, The Needle Man, is rather scary in his ruthlessness. I liked that our teenage protagonists do their best to be brave and smart, but they do make mistakes; they don’t have any kind of special powers or training. It was also refreshing to see a YA story with multiple female main characters and no romance subplots.