Oh man, I Am Princess X was one hell of a trip from start to finish.
Cherie Priest’s YA novel tells the story of best friends May and Libby, who created a character named Princess X one day at school while drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. They quickly become best friends and bond over Princess X’s story, then take the character one step further and start creating comics about her and her life. This tradition continues until Libby and her mom are killed in a car accident.
May goes through her life more or less as a shell of her former self, until one day she stumbles upon a sticker of a character that looks eerily similar to Princess X. It’s impossible; only she and Libby knew about the character, but after some digging and internet searches, May learns that Princess X has a whole website devoted to her, and someone has been continuing the comic series, as well. As May looks through the comic in more detail, though, she realizes that no one but her best friend could have continued these comics. Suddenly, the fact that she had been living in denial about Libby’s death makes sense, because now she’s got concrete proof that Libby is still alive.
After realizing that Libby isn’t dead and is leaving May clues about what happened to her and where to find her, May enlists another kid in her building, hacker aficionado Patrick—or Trick, as he likes to be called—to help her solve different pieces of the puzzle and find Libby. They’re led throughout Seattle and the darkest corners of the internet, participating in a scavenger hunt of sorts to find clues Libby had left May as to her whereabouts, and what really happened to her.
I Am Princess X combines real life and the Internet to create a fun adventure story that really does make you wonder what’s going to happen next. It was also refreshing to have a book that easily passed the Bechdel test and didn’t have any romantic subplots at all: it was all about May trying to save her best friend. I think I really would’ve enjoyed reading it, but listening to it was definitely a different experience, and one I’m not so sure I liked as much.
The weirdest thing about reviewing I Am Princess X as an audiobook is the fact that the hard copy also includes a handful of the Princess X comics. When I started listening, I was curious as to how the comics would be treated in the audiobook—would they be described, adapted for audio, or just removed entirely? How much would it detract from the book, if at all?
Surprisingly enough, the comics were adapted really well. Each time a comic showed up in the hard copy, Priest rewrote them into a kind of radio drama, which added a really cool aspect to the story. It was well done, and I enjoyed the idea, but the narration of the comics bothered me enough that I actually dreaded whenever they would show up.
To put it simply, the narrator, Mary Robinette Kowal, sounded like a kid in a theater class who was trying too hard to sound dramatic. Her reading was full of way-too-dramatic pauses and unnecessary embellishments; a lot of the time, it felt like I was listening to a bad radio drama, which almost immediately made me want to tune out until I got back to the actual story.
Unfortunately, Kowal’s narration of the comics wasn’t the only issue. Her voices for male characters were awkward and clunky, and whenever May’s father talked, he sounded like the adults do in Peanuts cartoons—just a lot of mumbling in a deep voice.
I Am Princess X would be great for teenagers aged 14 to 17 in particular, especially because of the significant roles technology and Internet culture play in the story; the constant references to web comics, social media platforms, and general pop culture would make it easy for them to connect to the world and characters that Priest has built.
All in all, the book was an interesting listen and had a cool storyline, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I had read it first instead of listening to it. I’d definitely like to read it again to focus more on the story instead of the narration, and hopefully this time around I won’t have an overdramatic-sounding voice in my head while doing so.
Story: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Narration: 2 out of 5 stars
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and has a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters.