I was not sure what to expect from this book though I’d read about the basic plot before publication. I love the Clockwork Century books by Priest so why not?
Libby Deaton and May Harper become friends in fifth grade when both of them have sit out Phy Ed for a time.
Together, beginning with a chalk drawing on the playground at school, they create Princess X.
She is “a blue-haired girl in a puff-sleeved princess dress, wearing a big gold crown and red sneakers” who wields a katana. She lives in a purple haunted house with friendly ghosts and watches over the town of Silverdale.
Over the years, the girls fill notebooks with stories of Princess X. May makes up the stories and Libby draws them out.
One day Libby and her mom are killed when their car goes off a bridge on a perfectly ordinary day.
She is left with nothing of their friendship, as Libby’s father moves out of state suddenly and all of the stories disappear with him.
Except. It is possible that the stories and scrapbooks went to a thrift store somewhere in the city. Perhaps they can be found. May makes her parents drive all over looking for them.
When May’s parents divorce, she is shuttled to Atlanta to start a new life and make new friends. On visits to her father, she still hops on a bus and searches for the notebooks.
Or is Libby alive? Secretly, May never believed Libby died, wouldn’t believe it. She dreamed over and over that Libby had broken out of the car and rose to the surface, alive. Her parents hated this obsession, because Libby’s body was found, downstream from the submerged car, severely eaten by fish but with Libby’s clothing and school ID.
On May’s travels through the city she began to see more Princess X stickers. It turned out there was a website that had gone up about six months ago that was wildly popular, as it featured the story of Princess X, new stories May didn’t know. Nobody knew who wrote the comics, the IP could not be traced by even the most intrepid geek.
The Comics feature Princess X, held prisoner by Needle Man, and The Ghost Queen “mother and avenging spirit” who helps the Princess escape the Needle Man, and watches over her.
With the help of Patrick, a neighbor with a bit too much tech saavy for his own good, May reads the comics, and is convinced Libby is alive and reaching out to her with the comics.
Thanks to Patrick, she learns that the accident that killed Libby’s mother and perhaps Libby was no accident. Libby’s mother was shot in the head, leading her to drive off the bridge. May’s parents had managed to hide all of this from her.
A clever intermingling of the search for Libby and the story of Princess X’s daring escape from Needle Man becomes a really tense thriller of a story. The Needle Man is not only real, he is very tech savvy as well and he is relentless in his search for Princess X. He is willing to murder, lie, steal, do anything to get her back. He is incredibly clever.
I read the book in a single evening, just transfixed. When I closed the book, I said, “wow, that was just spectacular, one of the best things I’ve read in ages.”