Saturday, July 11, 2015

I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

When May and Libby were younger, they devised a fairy tale about a sword-wielding Princess X, which Libby would illustrate.  But then, Libby and her mother died in a car accident.  All of the artwork disappeared when Libby's grieving father emptied the house and moved away.

Three years later, May is shocked to find a sticker on a lamppost with Princess X on it.  Either someone has rediscovered the lost artwork or Libby is still somehow alive.  May starts to research the mystery but the further she goes, the more incredible the story becomes.  Princess X is apparently a wildly popular web comic now and tells the story of a girl who everyone thought had been killed in a car accident, but is now fleeing for her life.  And, as May gets closer to solving the mystery, she finds her own life in danger as well.

An interesting stylistic cross between traditional YA action story and graphic novel.  Particularly in the beginning, there is a wonderful interplay between the comic and the real world story.  Unfortunately, the comic parts wind down and are sorely missed by the end. This is mostly because the text itself is written in style of a graphic novel -- jumpy narrative that is intended merely to illustrate the panel of a page.  That gives the entire book a cohesive style, but it's awkward without illustrations.

Priest makes two fairly risky artistic moves in this book:  the first is the decision to write it in the third person (an extension of the comic book style she's shooting for), which allows her to get inside of the heads of each of her colorful characters, but at the same time distances us from the action.  Given the strength of her characters, that's probably a good decision and the trade-off is ultimately worth it.  The second decision is to moor the story solidly in Seattle (I assumed that she was a native, in fact, but she actually lives in Tennessee).  She pulls that part off surprisingly well, getting her streets, public transit, and even her knowledge of local businesses pretty much spot on.  She raised my hackles a bit when she spouted some nonsense about how Seattle Children's Hospital archives their patient records (but hey, how many YA readers happen to work professionally with Seattle-based hospitals' computer systems?), but here her risk pays off as well.

In sum, this is an artistically interesting book:  a graphic novel without all of the illustrations, a tribute to the genre, and a challenging design with an engaging story.

[Disclosure:  I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.  I will be donating the copy to my local public library.]

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