Libby Deaton and May Harper met in fifth grade and together they created Princess X, a superhero who fought monsters, ghosts, and other unsavory invaders. Princess X was a badass, but instead of dressing in black leather like Catwoman or Emma Peel, she wore a frilly princess dress and red high-top sneakers. Her weapon of choice was the katana (“Basically the best sword ever,” says Libby). After appearing in hundreds of comic strips, the princess quickly became the girls’ alter ego, their avatar, and their third best friend.
The adventures of Princess X came to a screeching halt on the day Libby and her mom drove off a Seattle bridge. No more comics. No more best friend. No more nothing. May fell into a three-year funk of depression and inertia.
But then suddenly and without warning, images of Princess X started popping up all over town. In addition, the dormant hero had somehow become a smash hit on the Internet. Instinctively, May knew what it meant: After all these years her friend Libby was still alive. And she was certain that clues of her whereabouts could be found in the webcomic.
Once the wheels of the story start spinning, I Am Princess X doesn’t slow down for a single second. Priest has written a dark cyber mystery that borrows a little bit from Alfred Hitchcock, Cory Doctorow, and V.C. Andrews. The suspense (and the lurking menace) is unyielding.
Credit must also go to artist Kali Ciesemier. Her Princess X comics (which are sprinkled throughout the book) are outstanding. Hybrid novels like this are tricky to pull off. Things can go off the rails quickly. Here, however, Priest and Ciesemier establish an easy synergy. The mystery is being solved concurrently in the webcomic and in real life, and you have to pay close attention to both. Thankfully the writer and the artist make sure their words and pictures are perfectly in sync.
At the end of the novel, May successfully lures the mad villain out of his secret lair. “I am Princess X!” she barks at him. After all, why should the comic strip princess have all the cool adventures? “It’s my turn to be the hero,” she says. The message is clear; it doesn’t matter who writes or draws the comic, we are all Princess X.
[I Am Princess X / By Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier / First Printing: May 2015/ ISBN: 9780545620857]