I Am Princess X, is another of my treasures from Phoenix Comicon 2015. The author, Cherie Priest was a guest of the convention and appeared on several panels. Regrettably my schedule did not allow me the opportunity to meet her, but that’s where I first learned about her work.
Title: I Am Princess X
Author: Cherie Priest
Fate brings together Libby and May when they’re sidelined from 5th grade gym class. In order to pass the time the two girls collaborate on a comic book character they name Princess X and in their shared creation they become best friends. A few years later Libby disappears in an apparent auto accident and is presumed dead. All of the Princess X drawings are lost and May never expects to see Libby or their Princess ever again. But then one day May does see Princess X – in printed stickers and street graffiti. Nobody else knows about Princess X, so May wonders who might be behind her reappearance. Could there be more to Libby’s disappearance than she knows? Can May piece together clues to find out what really happened on the night Libby was lost?
The art and format of this graphic novel/prose hybrid roused my interest first and the dust jacket synopsis ensured my purchase. The snippets of comic art imbedded in chapters throughout the novel are brilliantly executed. These panels heighten visual interest and support the story by building suspense and intrigue for the reader. The transitions from text to drawings and back encourage organic pauses to study clues and weave together threads of the mystery. Sometimes I stopped to ponder the art and the subtext and other times I greedily attacked the words following a comic panel to find the answer to a clue spelled out right away.
There is so much to adore about I Am Princess X, beginning with the nature of the girls’ friendship. Libby and May forged a friendship build on creativity, collaboration, and respect without competition or frenemy drama. They never gossiped behind each other’s back or fought over a boy, and even as kids they seemed to realize the preciousness of their friendship. While I would love to peek in on their early birthday celebrations, sleepovers, and summer fun, I agree with the author’s decision to maintain a pace that builds momentum and keeps the story engaging for her target audience of young adults.
The characters in I Am Princess X are not as complex as you might find in a longer, more developed book. Once the players are established and the action begins, the story unfolds over a matter of days. Characters are developed enough to invoke our compassion, but there’s no time for more given how quickly the plot moves. I love that important ethnically diverse and LGBT characters exist in this book and the author doesn’t make a big deal about it. Libby is bi-racial and even though that fact is important to the story it is not lingered upon. Jackdaw is gay but this isn’t the story of his romantic life so it doesn’t come to the forefront. Characters have unique traits that inform their personalities but don’t define them. The author’s respect for diversity extends to gender roles as well. I love that girls and women in this book unflinchingly do what has been labeled masculine in the past. The Director of IT for Trick’s school district is a woman. May and Libby love comics and they create Princess X for its own sake – nobody is “into comics” because they’re trying to impress a boy with how cool they are. Priest lets the characters be who they are and celebrates their differences with finesse.
This is a quick, fun read. I started this book on a Friday afternoon and reluctantly put it down because I had plans for Friday night. Saturday morning I picked it up again and polished it off before Noon. There are parts where the story is linear and I figured out the mystery before it was revealed, but I’m alright with that. This is a novel to enjoy for what it is: the celebration of love between best friends and a page-turner mystery. Go out and buy this book because it is good fun and because we need more like this in our reading lives.
Before I finish this review, I have a confession. I nearly missed out on this fun, unique graphic/novel hybrid because I bear an anti-steampunk prejudice. Cherie Priest is known for her Clockwork Century series of steampunk adventure stories and for that reason I might easily have bypassed her work. After all, I have a pretty epic to be read (TBR) list and, frankly, steampunk is not my jam. I don’t understand it and that’s probably why I don’t appreciate it. (I suppose that is true of most of our prejudicial feelings.) Sometimes I think maybe I should be into steampunk. Browsing online photos posted by former Goth kids with whom I rubbed fishnet-clad elbows in the mid-1990’s, I see corsets and clockworks in abundance. The genre doesn’t resonate with me at all though. It feels forced and I’m put off by the drab-colored Victorian fashions, obligatory brass monocles, and cog-and-gear embellishments on absolutely everything. Probably my least favorite steampunk components are the innumerable leather helmet/stylized aviator goggle combos; some say iconic, I say cliché. I do not take this position to offend aficionados or to blow the steam from their contraptions, but rather to illustrate that when we allow preconceptions about genre to influence what we are willing to read, we risk missing exceptionally good books. Books like I Am Princess X, for example.
Have you read I Am Princess X? Maybe you love some of Cherie Priest’s other work? Maybe you have a sweet piece of steampunk fiction that might turn it all around for me. If so, sound off of the comments below or connect with me on goodreads. I’d love the chance to talk books with you