2016’s I Am Princess X is a standalone young-adult thriller by Cherie Priest. It features illustrations by Kali Ciesemier.
Once upon a time there were two schoolgirls, artist Libby and writer May. Together, they created a shared fantasy world, ruled over by Princess X. Their partnership came to an abrupt, violent end when the car containing Libby and her mother went through a bridge guard rail and into the waters below.
May did her best to convince herself that Libby somehow survived. By the time May was sixteen, she had to accept what everyone around her believed to be true: Libby was dead.
Then the stickers start appearing in Seattle windows.
The stickers featured drawings of a Princess X, drawings that look very much like the Princess that May and Libby imagined and that Libby drew. May no longer has those drawings; they had been stored at Libby’s place and were given away or destroyed by her distraught father. May’s father suggests that Libby’s drawings could have been sent to a thrift store, where a third party might have purchased them. May dismisses this suggestion.
Whatever the source of the art, once May starts looking she finds Princess X is the heroine of a webcomic, one that is known to many but new to May. Princess X is engaged in a deadly struggle with the malevolent Needle Man. Who has been drawing the webcomic? It couldn’t be Libby … could it?
Determined to track down the author, May turns to Patrick, a young hacker. Although May is unable to pay Patrick, being but a sixteen-year-old to whom twenty dollars is a lot of money, she manages to convince him that solving the mystery is a challenge worthy of his stupendous talent.
Patrick is skilled enough to uncover at least part of the mystery — but not skilled enough to keep the Needle Man from noticing the prying. The Princess X webcomic may be fantasy, but it’s inspired by grim reality. There is a Needle Man. He is obsessed, he is relentless, and he is willing to murder people who get in his way.
And now he knows that Patrick and May are looking for the author of Princess X.
I borrowed the ebook version of this novel from Overdrive. It came with a font that is fixed-size. Unfortunately, it is a size I found unreadable. I would recommend reading the dead-tree version.
As May searches for the truth behind Princess X, she finds that there are things she should have known. Her parents concealed certain facts about Libby’s accident, facts that they were sure would only distress May. Nobody concealed the Princess X webcomic, but as May is socially isolated, it took her a long time to notice the comic. There are other, easily discoverable things she could have known — but first she would have had to know to look.
May and readers eventually learn that the entity behind Princess X has taken the webcomic route as a roundabout way to expose the Needle Man. That entity tried a straightforward approach to authorities, but no authorities would believe them. Needle Man had ways of ensuring that. But can a mere webcomic succeed where denunciation failed?
Princess X is a fast-paced, tightly plotted thriller. Kali Ciesemier’s skillful illustrations are an integral part of the plot.