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.
The premise of the book is one I hadn’t seen before. A mysterious webcomic that could only have been written by the main character’s dead best friend? Count me in. Even more, the webcomic is suspiciously close to the actual events surrounding that friend’s death.
I Am Princess X is a young adult mystery/thriller about one girl’s search for her missing friend. It delivers on its intriguing premise early, wasting no time in diving into the mystery. The story is fast-paced and doesn’t let up for its roughly 250 pages.
I’m somewhat conflicted over this book. While the pacing is quick, the suspense sort of just…fades away. The main villain is initially spooky and intimidating, but the more we learn about him, the lower the stakes feel. It’s like the Lovecraft quote:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
As scary as the Needle Man was, he could’ve benefited from a little less knowing.
There were some LGBTQ characters in the story, which was great. However, I think they could have been handled a little more deftly. If there’s an older man alone with a young girl and she’s worried he’ll demand sexual favors, he probably shouldn’t say “You’d have to be a guy for me to be interested in that.” Because, you know, that’s more important than her being an underage minor.
That aside, this was one of the more uniquely presented stories I’ve encountered. If you pick up this book in print, there are pages of comic strips throughout the novel that are taken directly from the in-universe webcomic and provide important clues about what might have happened to the missing Libby. If you listen to the audio version (like me), these segments are narrated in a theatrical “radio announcer” type voice and feature sound effects normally found in audio dramas. As always, Mary Robinette Kowal knocks it out of the park with her fantastic narration.
Overall, this was a good book with noticeable flaws. If I’d picked it up when I was younger, I don’t think I’d have noticed these as much. The book was short enough that I breezed through it anyway, though, and I think it might resonate well with the right audience.