I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest (Kali Ciesemier, Illustrator)

I Am Princess X I Am Princess X

by Cherie Priest, Kali Ciesemier, Illustrator

Hardcover, 227 pg.
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015

Read: June 4, 2015

This book starts off just like the book description tells you — it’s practically an outline of the first 40 pages. Somehow, even if all they were doing was fulfilling the book jacket copy, the opening chapters sucked me in more and more with each detail until the last sentence on page 35. That line was just creepy. At that point, I put my finger in the book to save the page, called to my daughter (who’d showed minor interest on the book) and told her that unless Priest screwed things up, she had to read this (and seriously , what were the odds of Priest doing that?).

Years after the death of her best friend, Libby, May starts to see drawings around town of something the two had created together (and no one else knew about). How is that possible? She does everything she can to find out, but that doesn’t tell her anything other than that there’s a (pretty popular) webcomic out there starring their creation. There’s a self-proclaimed computer guru (Patrick — he prefers Trick, though) living a few floors below her dad that May hires/cons into going the extra technological mile for her. Their investigation doesn’t remain online, and before long the two are running all over Seattle. They dance between employer/employee; condescending college-aged twerp/younger, slightly naive teen; pals throughout in a way that seems organic and real. It’s probably the most realistic thing in the book after the death of Libby. While I’m talking about them — the hijinks the pair get into in the cemetery result in either the funniest or the grossest line of dialog I’ve read this year. Possibly both.

This isn’t the kind of comic/prose hybrid that Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Stephen Pastis, etc. are doing — Priest uses the comic pages (taken from the fictional webcomic) to further the plot, to help us see what May and Trick are reading/seeing. Rather than trying to describe (and likely not succeeding all that often) a series of panels and the artwork, we just get them. Shorter, sweeter, to the point. A great merger of the two media. Ciesemier’s art is spot-on, I could easily read a webcomic she draws.

This is a YA novel with no love triangle, no romantic love period — that’s practically enough of a sales pitch for me right there. Friendship — that’s the emotional core driving this. The old friendship between Libby and May, that death hasn’t changed too much; the budding friendship between May and Trick, and another one that’s in spoiler territory. Nowhere along the lines is there even a whiff of anything else between these characters. What a breath of fresh air! There’s some actual parenting (not perfect, but humans trying) along the line, too — a couple of pretty good dads — something else I don’t see a lot in YA. So yay there, too.

It’s an implausible story grounded in three real characters (May, Trick and May’s dad) — and a couple of others that could have been as grounded if we’d gotten a few more pages from them. For the story this is trying to tell? That’s just enough to carry it.

We see the villain enough to find him threatening and somewhat believable, learn enough about him to support that, but not enough that we can develop any sympathy for him — he’s mostly shadow, which frequently feels like under-writing or a cheat by the author. But here it felt like a device to underline the threat he poses.

This is pure escapist adventure reading — no muss, no fuss, no frills. The story matches the medium of a webcomic pretty well. Sure, it could’ve been a deeper, more reflective novel — or even a slightly more realistic one. But it doesn’t need to be. Have I rated better written/constructed novels lower than this? Oh yeah. But this novel was exactly everything it promised to be, everything it needed to be. This grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go until it was done.

As an added bonus for people like me, I’m pretty sure there’s a tip o’ the hat to Robert B. Parker in these pages. That just brought a smile to my face.

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4 1/2 Stars

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Review Catch Up: Beautiful Redemption; Breach Zone; Chasing the Prophecy; Fiddlehead

I’ve got a backlog of 40-plus reviews I’ve been meaning to write — some of them, I just have to admit aren’t going to get done. But I’m going to try my level best. The four books I’ve decided to tackle in one fell swoop are the concluding novels from series I enjoy, and yet I’ve had trouble reviewing them. On the whole, there’s no reason for it — I should’ve had at least a few paragraphs of material on these, but I can’t seem to muster it (especially given how much time has gone by).

But I do want to clear these off my to-do list, so, without further ado, a few words on these series finales:

Beautiful RedemptionBeautiful Redemption

by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Paperback, 451 pg.
Penguin Books, 2012
Read: November 19 – 20, 2013

On the one hand, this was not at all like the rest of the series — and yet it was a very fitting conclusion. Garcia and Stohl wrapped up everything that needed wrapped up, answered every lingering question (not always as I expected), and generally, did so in an emotionally satisfying way. I wouldn’t have thought that this book would lead to a spin-off series, but it fits.

If you’re into Paranormal YA, this was a very satisfying conclusion, and probably the best of that genre I’ve read.
4 Stars

Breach ZoneBreach Zone

by Myke Cole

eBook, 384 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: January 31 – February 04, 2014

I really, really liked all of Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series — a gritty, believable mix of Contemporary Military and Fantasy, and yet, I’ve never reviewed one of his books. Don’t ask me why.

This, the conclusion to the trilogy, is just outstanding. You know how at the end of (pretty much) every fantasy novel, there’s this big, epic battle that takes up most of the last ¼ – ⅓ of the novel? That’s pretty much this entire book. Okay, not really — there’s plenty of backstory, character development and wrapping up the trilogy. But while reading, it sure felt like it was an epic fantasy battle on the streets and in the waters of New York. Somewhere in there, Cole looks gain at questions of patriotism, duty, ethics and morality — and how people of integrity can try to harmonize them all (and, more often, how those with integrity can’t harmonize them all). Seriously, awesome stuff.
4 Stars

Chasing the ProphecyChasing the Prophecy

by Brandon Mull

Hardcover, 512 pg.
Aladdi, 2013
Read: December 2 – 5, 2013

Wow — Mull concluded his Beyonder’s trilogy in a fantastic fashion. Given the target audience, I couldn’t believe how many deaths there were in this book. But, not in a gory or exploitative way. Just a huge body count. But, the core of this book remained the same: these two Beyonders, Rachel and Jason, risking everything for the sake of Lyrian. There’s sacrifice, honor, loyalty, and courage — all the necessary elements of a tale full of heroes — natives and Beyonders, warriors and children, those with many lives and those with only one to lose. Which is not to say it’s not fun — there’s a lot of fun to be had by the characters and the readers. Great way to go out.
4 Stars

FiddleheadFiddlehead

by Cherie Priest

Paperback, 368 pg.
Tom Doherty Associates, 2013
Read: November 12 – 14, 2013

Nice looking book — love the cover, the layout and the graphics are great. I miss the brown ink — what gives, Tor? Sure, the content is the important thing, it’s just nice when the package it’s wrapped in is nice to look at. Speaking of content — this (like the rest of this group) is a fitting — and thrilling — conclusion to the series. Lincoln (wheelchair-bound following the unsuccessful assassination attempt at Ford’s Theater) and President Grant working together near the end of the Civil War to protect a freeman scientist who built an early computer — the eponymous Fiddlehead. Fiddlehead is the best chance to end the War without making everything worse. The presidents, with the assistance of Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd and intelligence from — well, everywhere else this series has focused — in order to begin to deal with the Rotters. I think it’s possible that Boyd is my favorite character in the series — in the Top 3, anyway.

I just didn’t want this series to end, I understand it needed to, but man…just didn’t want that.
4 1/2 Stars