Cherie Priest takes a seemingly simple plot and pumps it full of suspense and mystery: Two best friends, Libby and May write a comic together about Princess X. After Libby dies in a car accident, the stories stop. May is left alone, and Princess X dies with Libby. Years after Libby’s death May sees a sticker of Princess X as she walks around Seattle. THEIR Princess X. Tracking down a webcomic by the same name, May discovers a story that closely resembles her and Libby’s past creations. So close in fact, May is convinced that not only is it the same comic, but that Libby is somehow behind it.
The writing is simple and clean, contrasting nicely against Seattle’s gritty backdrop. From the first chapter, to the last, this book is a no-frills approach to solving a mystery and the power of friendship. Princess X is created on a whim, and out of that, a bond is formed between the two girls that even death can’t break. What happens can only be described as an epic quest, as May joins up with sidekicks who help her navigate the very real world that hold clues to Libby’s possible escape from death. Even though the two characters aren’t together for more than a few chapters, Libby and May’s friendship is very much alive throughout.
The darker themes of the book are lightened by the quick humor of May and her new friend, Trick. I loved Trick for believing in May and Princess X, risking his life in many ways, and never putting on a mask of “tough guy.” I also loved that there was no romantic tension between the two, just an easy friendship. This made him the most believable male character I’ve come across in a long time. He wasn’t the only strong supporting character, however. I’m a sucker for stories with positive family relations, and that’s exactly what May’s dad is. Not only does he support May’s search for Libby, he goes so far as to supply her with as much information as possible. Even if it’s a small role, I found it to be a touching addition to the relationships in this novel.
The mystery is well paced and riveting, but the story isn’t the only interesting thing about this book. The design of the book is a pleasant nod to indie webcomics. From the color scheme, to the illustrations, the comic portion of the book is enchanting. The first thing you see when you crack open the covers is a close up drawing of Princess X. The following pages are peppered with various frames and full pages of pieces of her story. Even before you read the first words, your mind is racing to gather clues - anything that might tell you if Libby is really alive. Rather than detract from the story, the sparse comic strips pull you deeper into the dark world of Princess X’s nightmare. Each chapter heading has Princess X’s eyes gazing out at the reader, a constant plea to not be forgotten. Apart from adding depth to the story, the illustrations are just plain beautiful and an enjoyable addition.
I was a little disappointed (mild spoiler) when I realized that it wasn’t wholly Libby behind the amazing computer hacking skills responsible for the webcomic and subsequent clues. I had hoped that we would get to add another tech-savvy girl to the small list of coder girls, but even May isn’t able to handle the technology side of the plot without the aid of two “genius” hacker boys. In the end, it brought two interesting characters into the story, but I had desperately hoped one of the girls would be able to storm the virtual castle.
This book reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother in terms character, and would be perfect for fans of graphic novels and mysteries alike. Overall, it was an engaging read with a great comic book vibe.