I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest YA fantasy book reviewsI Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic” but “a sword takes skill.”). Libby did the artwork while May created the story. Their friendship, and Princess X, ended when Libby was killed in a car accident… or so May thought.

Years later, she is flabbergasted when she begins seeing Princess X stickers and drawings around town. Either somebody found the Princess X notebooks that Libby’s father’s housekeeper threw away, or Libby isn’t dead after all. After May discovers a Princess X webcomic, she recruits a computer geek who lives in her apartment building to help her figure out who’s behind Princess X. As they follow clues found in the Princess X webcomic, they sneak around town, break into buildings, dig up graves, and hack into databases.

The story is tense, exciting, and a little bit scary. There were several times that Tali and I both dropped our jaws and stared at each other in shock. We thought it was quite a page turner. However, we were disappointed that there were a few instances where May and her friend unnecessarily (and kind of stupidly) broke the law or risked their lives when it made a lot more sense to ask an adult for help or call the police. Sure, there’s a “reason” why they couldn’t do that, but we were not convinced. While we enjoyed the story, there was the constant sense that the kids’ goals could have been met a lot more quickly, safely, and legally by simply consulting an adult.

Something that I hope Tali will take away from I Am Princess X is that it’s really easy to be tracked on the internet. Her activity on the internet is not private. She has learned this in school, but Cherie Priest’s story is a stark reminder and I hope it will vividly stick in my daughter’s brain.

The audiobook version of I Am Princess X is 7 hours long, produced by Scholastic Audio, and read by fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal. Tali and I thought she gave a great performance. I’d recommend the audio version, but I’d also encourage you to check out Kali Ciesemier’s illustrations at the Princess X website. Drawn in shades of purple, they are lovely.

~Kat Hooper


I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest YA fantasy book reviewsI read the hardcopy version of Cherie Priest’s Young Adult thriller I am Princess X. I liked it slightly more than Kat, and I liked some different things than she did. I had some of the same issues with the book as she did, too.

May and Libby become friends in the fifth grade. They’re inseparable and together create a comic character named Princess X, while they trek around Seattle soaking up local color. Then Libby and her mother are killed in an accident, May’s parents divorce and she leaves Seattle, coming back only to spend summers with her dad. The summer she is seventeen, Princess X suddenly reappears on the scene, leading May to a mysterious webcomic. Is Libby somehow still alive? As May and hacker Patrick begin excavating the truth, Trick’s hacking brings him to the attention of someone who will do anything to see that the truth remains buried.

The story is suspenseful, intense, and often fun as the webcomic leads May and Trick on a kind of scavenger hunt. Priest uses actual Seattle neighborhoods and describes them with plenty of sensory detail. The arty neighborhood called the Fremont gets lots of attention. Meanwhile, online, the story gets quite scary as the shadowy villain begins to track them down. Kat commented that the story shows how easy it is for someone to find you on the internet, and that is a big part of the plot. It’s not preachy, but it’s a good starting point for a discussion with your teen about just how not-private the internet is. In this book, the danger is real, and the body count soon mounts as the story continues.

Like Kat, I shook my head in a few places at the young protagonists’ decisions not to involve adults. May’s father has been supportive of May’s search and even provided her with intel. It seems odd that, as the story progresses, it doesn’t occur to her to ask him for help. I have to wonder if somehow we aren’t setting a trap for YA writers; the story has to be the kids’ story, but we complain about the incompetent or checked-out parent. When the writer creates smart, engaged parents, we wonder why the kids don’t turn to them sooner. I don’t know the answer for this. Maybe we just have to assume teenage protagonists think they can handle things when they can’t.

One detail bothered me. Early in the book we learn that May has asthma, but I didn’t see where the asthma came into play later in the book, when it seems like she might have some issues. Unless I missed it, she doesn’t even carry an inhaler. This nagged at me, especially at the end when the action gets life-threatening.

That said, I am Princess X is a great puzzle, it’s creepy and exciting. The comic itself, drawn by Kali Ciesmier and reproduced in the book, is well done and gives us lots of clues. I enjoyed this book and I think most teens will too.

~Marion Deeds

Published in 2015. Best friends, big fans, a mysterious webcomic, and a long-lost girl collide in this riveting novel, perfect for fans of both Cory Doctorow and Sarah Dessen, & illustrated throughout with comics. Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure. Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her. Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window. Princess X? When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon—her best friend, Libby, who lives.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. I was going to get the hard copy. As you know, I’m not a big fan of audio books, but then I saw Mary Robinette Kowal’s name and now I’m thinking I’d like both.

  2. I totally forgot about the asthma, Marion. I agree that should have been addressed, even if it was just telling us that she grew out of it (which does happen).

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