This Trek was a birthday present for my 12-year-old daughter. I am Princess X, by Cherie Priest, is one of her favorite books. One she loved so much, that she begged me relentlessly for weeks to read it. When at last I finally agreed to read the book, my only regret was not doing so sooner because it was, in a word, awesome. I literally could not put it down; I burnt dinner, put off laundry, and basically got next to nothing done while devouring this book. All of which thrilled my daughter to no end, because the only thing better than sharing a good book with someone you love is proving your mother to be wrong, wrong, wrong, especially at her age. However, the best was yet to come.
As I read the book, it quickly became abundantly clear that this novel wasn’t just set in Seattle, but rather that it was written by someone who had actually spent enough time here to really know Seattle (and the Northwest in general). The details describing the weather, the geography, and in particular, the construction taking place in the Capitol Hill area, were spot on and contained more detail than even the most talented web surfer could glean from Google. However, it wasn’t until I was sheepishly returning the book the next day, when my daughter asked me how I enjoyed it and if would write about it on my blog, that it hit me. This book would be perfect for trekking; it set in a real place, not too far from home, and it would make the perfect birthday outing for my daughter. And so began our adventure, that if successful, would allow us to blur the line between fantasy and reality.
I am Princess X, By Cherie Priest With illustrations by Kali Ciesmier
When two best friends (Libby and May) dreamed up Princess X, a Katana wielding princess wearing a poofy dress and red Chucks, in the 5th grade neither of them could predict that she would provide them away to communicate beyond the grave and solve a murder. At the time, the princess was merely a doodle, made of nothing but chalk and the imagination of two bored girls who didn’t even know each other. Yet, over time, drawing and writing her adventures would become the foundation of their friendship. However, when Libby and her mom are in a fatal car crash everything, including the Princess, is lost. That is, until a few years later when May is wandering the streets of Seattle she stumbles across a Princess X Sticker in the window of a soon to be demolished building, and begins an adventure that frays the division between fantasy and reality.
If you have not read this book, and would like to, I strongly recommend not reading any further until you have finished the book.
The first step was to list all of the locations mentioned in the book, then to plot out those locations onto a map, and finally, to slowly, and meticulously, begin to collate them into specific areas we could visit and/or find. Luckily, the author’s descriptions are excellent, vivid, and accurate. This meant that most of the time, using the book as our guide, we were able to find most of the locations mentioned in this book. However, due to construction, artistic license, and human error (on our part), there were a few places we simply could not locate.
After initially posting this piece, I sent a copy of it to the author, Cherie Priest, in the hope that she might enjoy it. Much to my extreme surprise, she wrote back, and offered some valuable details to help fill in some of the holes in my knowledge. I have included them wherever possible.
Seattle Neighborhoods mentioned in I am Princess X.
- Capitol Hill (which includes Volunteer Park and Lakeview Cemetery.)
- University District
- Old Ballard
- Pioneer Square (which includes the King Street Station)
- The waterfront
- Bainbridge Island
The Capitol Hill neighborhood is a diverse and densely populated area of Seattle known for its numerous (independent) coffee houses, nightlife, theater, live music, bookstores, and stunning views. However, what makes this area unique, is how it has adapted and absorbed new trends and groups over the years rather than simply evolving into something entirely different. As a result of the stunning views, beautiful park, and high vantage point far above most of the rest of the city, Capitol Hill became a wealthy residential neighborhood. After the war, many apartment buildings were built to accommodate the growing population, and a new demographic, the working class, moved into the neighborhood. During the 1960’s Capitol Hill became the center of gay culture in the Seattle area, introducing (more openly) yet another demographic. Today the area has begun to attract members of the technological corporate workforce bringing yet another group into the fold.
It is in this neighborhood that, May and Libby, live and hang out.
Libby’s House – Libby’s house is described as being not far from (the aptly named) Millionaire’s Row in Seattle. The author let me know that she did not have a particular house in mind; just that Libby’s family lived in this neighborhood.
Photograph currently unavailable.
May’s Apartment Growing up: May’s apartment when she was growing up was described as small apartment in an old building. However, even factoring into the equation that May and Libby went to the same school, and so limiting the number of possibilities significantly, this just wasn’t enough go on to actually find the building in question. However, the author let me know that she was “vaguely thinking of the mid-century yellow building at 14th and Mercer.”
Photograph currently unavailable.
May’s Dad’s Present Apartment– While the author never specifically mentions where May’s Dad’s apartment actually is, she does give a number of rather specific clues as to where it was located and what it looks like:
- The small apartment in an old building, with glass double doors and is only a few blocks away from Volunteer Park.
- It is around the corner from a mom and pop Mexican Restaurant that know them on sight.
- There is an Italian Restaurant in the neighborhood where Patrick Hobbs’ mom is the manager.
- There are no less than 4 Starbucks within easy walking distance.
- There is a Victrola Coffee near the apartment where May and Patrick meet. They sit in the bench by the window.
- There is a crepe restaurant nearby.
- There is a coffee shop within a block or two of the apartment.
- There is a corner outside the building – where May and Libby draw at the end of the book.
- When May and Patrick miss the Bus to Fremont at stop near their apartment building and walk to the downtown hub it is a down hill walk, and the Bus trip to Fremont takes 30 minutes.
- It is a 20 minute walk from Lake View Cemetery.
Despite all of these clues we were not able to find May’s Dad’s apartment building. Whether this was due to lack of diligence on our part, creative license on the part of the author, or demolition due to construction, we may never know. But it was fun to look. As it turns out, it was a little of both. Apparently, the author used to live in the old building on the corner of 14th and Republican, and so set May’s Dad’s apartment around there even though there is no building matching that description.
Photo currently unavailable.
Black Tazza– In the book, Black Tazza, which later becomes a Stumptown Coffee, is May and Libby’s favorite local coffee joint for drinking hot chocolate and dreaming up Princess X stories. Later May and Patrick go here to search for the first key. However, while the descriptions of this location are vivid and specific, I believe it no longer exists (if it ever did).
According to the story Black Tazza:
- Becomes a STUMPTOWN coffee.
- Can be reached from May’s apartment by taking the #12 bus.
- Was demolished to make the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station, but that the station retained the original storefronts.
According to the author, Black Tazza, was loosely based on a real shop called The Aurafice, which like Black Tazza closed down and became the Stumptown Coffee Roasters it is today. In reality, this place is located down on Pine Street, but through the power of creative license moved a few blocks to its fictional location in the book.
Photo currently unavailable.
Today the entire area is reshaped and largely defined by the Light Rail Stations. However, none of the new stations have retained the original storefronts.
Lake Union As children, May and Libby used to feed the ducks on the banks of Lake Union. Since Lake Union is pretty huge, without more description or a specific spot being pointed out by the author we just didn’t know… But since they lived in Capitol Hill area we assumed this is where they probably fed the ducks, as well as where they went to school and played in a fort.
Photograph currently unavailable.
Victrola – Is an Indy coffee shop near the apartment where May and Patrick meet. While I was not able to find one that fit into the parameters given to define the apartment’s location, I was able to find one on the other side of Capitol Hill, and is just as cool as it sounded in the book.
Volunteer Park – Volunteer Park is a historic landmark and picturesque retreat right in the heart of the Capitol Hill area. However, when the city of Seattle originally purchased the plot of land for $2,000 in 1876, for unspecified “municipal” purposes, the plan was to clear it and build a cemetery. Nevertheless, once the area was cleared, and the breathtaking views became more apparent, it was quickly decided that the space might better serve the living as a park, Volunteer Park to be specific, and the dead were instead placed in a nearby, but slightly less picturesque, plot.
Today, Volunteer Park, like the area that surrounds it, has managed to simultaneously keep one foot rooted deeply in the past and the other in the present. Within the 48.3 acre urban haven one can find beautiful turn of the century architecture, the thoroughly modern Seattle Asian Art Museum, over 60 different species of trees, lily ponds, an outdoor music pavilion, various outdoor sculptures, and one of Seattle’s original water reservoirs.
It is here in Volunteer Park, sitting at the edge of a pond, next to a fake blue heron, with an enormous brick water tower behind her (and thinking about Princess X) that all of the pieces of the mystery begin to come together for May.
I believe, despite the lack of Heron Sculpture, that this is the pond and the tower mentioned in the book. According to the author, there used to be a heron sculpture here whose purpose, she was told, was to scare real herons away from the fish. Why it is no longer there, remains a mystery.
While still staring up at the tower, thinking about Libby, and Princess X, May is interrupted by a guy on a skateboard. As she scowls after him, she notices, the now familiar logo of Princess X looking back at her from a sticker on the back of his bag. Desperate for answers, and without thinking, May follows him, and ultimately confronts him about the sticker in front of the Black Sun sculpture, locally known as “the doughnut.”
As described in the book, Black Sun, does indeed frame the Space Needle on clear days, and as luck would have it, the day we visited happened to be one of these rare sunny days.
Lake View Cemetery One of the oldest and most beautiful cemeteries in Seattle, Lake View Cemetery, is the final resting place of most of the city’s founders. However, it is probably most famous for being where Bruce Lee and his son are buried.
In the book, Lake View Cemetery is the location of May and Patrick’s third and final clue, specifically, in the grave of Christina Louise Mullins. The author describes mausoleum aptly as, an “open-air library of the dead”.
Photograph currently unavailable.
Technically, Downtown Seattle is made up of 12 Neighborhoods (Belltown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown, Denny Triangle, First Hill, Pioneer Square, Retail Core, SoDo, South Lake Union, Uptown, Waterfront, and West Edge). However, for the purposes of this book it appears to refer only to the West Edge neighborhood, specifically the area around the Pike’s Place Market.
It is, while wandering around, in this area of town that May really begins to find more Princess X stickers, stencils, and graffiti on everything from stop signs and sidewalks, to city buses and storm runoff drains.
She also finds Princess X stickers/stencils outside Pike’s Place Market – by the big brass pig across from fish flinging guys. After the Space Needle, this spot is probably one of the most iconic locations in all of Seattle.
And of course, May also finds a sticker just down the street outside another downtown hot spot, the World’s first Starbucks. As a (semi)local I have never felt the need to make a pilgrimage to this particular location, so I must admit to feeling very much like a tourist when I arrived to take this photo. But when in Rome…
Photograph currently unavailable.
The area surrounding the University of Washington, known as the University District, is a fantastically eclectic neighborhood. It is filled with everything one would expect to find orbiting a world-class university: historic homes, funky shops, great coffee shops, and very little parking. However, the focal point is, of course, the university and its beautiful campus.
Near the beginning of the book, the reader learns that May is on her way back from the University District, where she had been camping out in a park with a notebook working on her novel. The area is a bit of a trek from the Capitol Hill neighborhood where May’s Dad lives, however, it is beautiful enough to warrant the effort. Unfortunately, since all I had to go on was “a park” I was not able to trek to the actual park May goes to. In its stead, I offer a few pictures of the UW campus; easily one of the most beautiful “parks” in all of Seattle.
Once its own city, Ballard was annexed by the city of Seattle in 1907, mostly because of issues supplying residents with water and other services. Over 100 years later, however, there are still those that feel it should still be its own city. Throughout the area you will regularly see Free Ballard stickers. Today it is home to many fine restaurants, bars, farmer’s markets, and art galleries.
In the novel, the Old Ballard area is the scene of the most grisly parts of the story.
Ballard Bridge – The Ballard Bridge, I am sorry to say, is where Libby and her Mom were driven off the road into the dark waters of Salmon Bay below where they perished.
Photograph currently unavailable.
Salmon Bay – Salmon Bay, the water bellow the Ballard Bridge, is where Libby’s Mom’s car (and consequently her body) are found. However, Libby’s body is found a couple of weeks later in a nearby marina. However, there are several in the area, so I as unsure exactly which one the author was referring to.
Photograph currently unavailable.
Named for the Northgate Mall, the first covered mall in the United States, the Northgate area is currently one of the largest neighborhoods in Seattle.
The Northgate Mall is only briefly mentioned in the novel, as the place where Libby’s Dad’s body is found in a dumpster. Given the grisly nature of the murder, and having no desire to photograph dumpsters, I think no picture is necessary. However, this really is an amazing mall, even if, like me, shopping isn’t really your thing.
Like Ballard, Fremont was once its own city before being annexed into the City of Seattle in 1891. Today this arty neighborhood has proclaimed itself to be the center of the known universe, and is home to a rich community of artists and bohemians alike.
In the novel, the Fremont area is mentioned as one of the many places May and Libby spent time when they were growing up. However, it plays a much more prominent roll in the story, when May and Patrick travel here in search of the Second Key, and get more than they bargained for.
Center of the Known Universe Signpost- According to Fremont residents Fremont is the center of the known universe, and they have the Metropolitan King County Council Proclamation to prove it. The signpost colorfully states the distances from Fremont to places both real and imaginary. In the novel, the sign is mentioned as one of the many local Fremont markers that May and Patrick pass by as they search for the second key.
Fremont Troll Statue – Despite claiming to be the center of the known universe, the Fremont area is known best, not for its lofty geography, but for the huge Troll that resides under the Aurora Bridge. The Volkswagen Bug munching sculpture has been a permanent, and popular residence since 1989.
The edge of the Aurora Bridge is also where May and Patrick meet a “tall skinny guy” that we learn later is the Jackdaw. He helps steers them clear of the Needle Man and eventually gives them the second key.
Neon Signs: Throughout Seattle there are number of vintage neon signs, the most famous, and frequently photographed, is of course the one that hangs over Pikes Place Market. However, the Fremont area has a higher density of these signs than anywhere else in the city; several of which are called out in the novel.
The first of these signs is of two ballroom dancers. In the novel the first sign is described as being of a man and a woman dressed in ballroom clothes with perfect posture overlooking a dive bar and a hole in the wall coffee shop.
The second sign mentioned in the novel is of a diving woman. It is described as one long line in a blue bathing suit and a yellow swim cap.
The third and final sign mentioned is of another diving lady and the author describes her as looking at the lights and grates on bridge and pointing to a little landing where pillars and posts reinforced the draw bridge mechanism. We were not able to find this sign. I was however able to find this painting, that was similar to the description given in the book. If there is, or once was, a second diving lady sign on the bridge please let me know in the comments below.
Car Chase: While in Fremont, May and Patrick are chased by a man in an SUV, who follows them, trying to mow them down on sidewalks and into storefronts all around the neighborhood.
Pioneer Square, Seattle’s original downtown neighborhood, has reinvented itself many times since it was first settled in 1852. Today, while it is filled with trendy shops and eateries, it is the best window into Seattle’s past. Many of the city’s oldest buildings, can be found around this area, and can be appreciated from both above, and below, ground.
In the novel, Pioneer Square is the Jackdaw’s kingdom, and is the backdrop for some of the book’s most important, and exciting, story points.
Jackdaw’s Kingdom: The center of this kingdom is the Haunted House, AKA The Starfish, and at least according to the book is the headquarters of All Free Peoples. It is described not as a place where people live, but as a place where people pass through; big enough for about a dozen squatters. The book also says that over the years, the Starfish has been a hotel, a collection of lofts, a warehouse, and today lays vacant. However, while the actual Starfish, as it exists in Princess X is fictional, I think that it probably is/was based on a real building somewhere in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. Here are some of the candidates we considered.
However, according to the author, while “The Starfish was indeed based on a real buiding,” our guesses weren’t quite right. The actual building was an artist’s collective down off Alaska Way where a friend of hers worked. With any luck, we will be able to find it on a future trek into Seattle.
Photo currently unavailable.
The Pioneer Square Starbucks is also considered quite central to the Jackdaw’s kingdom. After all, this is where the Jackdaw, as a reward for saving the manager from a mugging, gets free coffee for life.
The Fudge shop at First Avenue is where Libby tries to pick pocket Jackdaw. However, this store, The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, moved from its First Ave. location nearer to the Pike’s Place Market a few years ago.
Fire Escape: The author mentions that the Jackdaw found Libby hiding up on a rickety 3rd story fire escape, that probably wasn’t even strong enough to hold both of them, in Pioneer Square. I cannot be sure, but this seems to fit the description, and location parameters perfectly. While she couldn’t be 100% sure from the photo provided if this was in fact THE fire escape mentioned, Ms. Priest said, “the fire escape near Merchants [in the photograph below] is probably right. It was somewhere right around there.”
Pioneer Square Park: When, May and Patrick, arrive in Pioneer Square in search of the Jackdaw, they pass through the throng of tourists waiting in line for the Underground Tour. While the whole neighborhood is known as Pioneer Square, it is specifically this park at the intersection of Yesler and First Ave. with its authentic Tlingit totem pole, bust of Chief Seattle, iconic iron pergola, and historic street lamps, that most people think of when they hear “Pioneer Square.”
Occidental Park: On route to the King Street Station at the far end of Pioneer Square, May and Patrick, step into Occidental Park to avoid cars. Occidental Park is a great little retreat in the heart of the city. It is filled with trees, surrounded with brick buildings, and has a number of high-end boutique stores and art galleries. In a word it is beautiful.
King Street Train Station: Once the tallest building in Seattle, the King Street Station has been a Seattle landmark since it was first built in 1904. While it has been in constant use since then, it has undergone many cosmetic alterations and remodels over the years. The most recent being a restoration, beginning in 2003 whose main goal was to restore the Station to its original grandeur.
In the novel this is where May and Patrick finally, officially, meet and enter the Underground world of the Jackdaw.
The outside of the station is describe as:
- Built from last century bricks and stone.
- Having oversized windows and classic lines.
- Having a great clock tower that scraped the ever present clouds.
The inside of the station is described as having
- Lots of stairs.
- Shiny floors.
- Brass fixtures.
- Wooden benches.
- Vintage tiles.
- High ceilings.
- Uniformed workers.
May and Patrick easily spot Jackdaw in the back corner of the station next to large display of before and after shots of the restoration. While these photos are no longer present in the train station, the author’s descriptions of the Station are wonderfully rich, and paint an accurate picture of the beauty of a bygone era.
In the train station, Jackdaw leads Patrick and May through a secret entrance to Seattle’s Underground. This route has them heading back through the station between columns, down corridors, and past a sign that says employees only, through a deactivated (according to Jackdaw) Emergency Exit and into a service corridor made of poured concrete that has handrails, and has yellow bulbs
Like all Sea Ports, the Seattle Waterfront has a long and colorful history. As long as there have been humans living in what is now the Seattle area, this spot has been a port of one kind or another here. Today, North of the Washington State Ferry terminal is where the cruise ships dock. As a result it has become a major urban, retail, tourist destination. While south of the Ferry Terminal, is still a major shipping port.
In the book, Patrick, May, Jackdaw, and Libby race around the Seattle Waterfront trying to find away across the Puget Sound in order to finally bring the Needleman to justice.
This flurry of activity has the characters following Jackdaw in and out of a tiny shop and a tattoo parlor on Alaska Way while he secures the use a Zodiac. However, since no specific stores are mentioned, and currently there aren’t any tattoo parlors located along the waterfront, we were unable to locate the exact locations mentioned in the book. Instead, we had to suffice with enjoying a walk along the Waterfront. This included checking out the Ye Olde Curiousity Shop’s new location, where my daughter found the bright red wooden Katana you may have noticed in several of the photographs.
Meanwhile the Needle Man is taking the nearby Ferry to Bainbridge.
Filled with unspoiled natural beauty, art studios, and wineries Bainbridge Island, is a popular get away for Seattle locals and tourists alike.
In the novel Princess X, it is the location of the Needle Man’s home. While the island is real, the Needle Man’s home is fictitious. Because the general area in which the home is located is a real residential neighborhood, I opted not to photograph the area.
In the book this is the Princess X’s mythical kingdom. However, for those of us who live West of Seattle, it is one of the major retail areas on the Kitsap Penninsua….and very, very real. As it turns out, this is not the Silverdale that inspired Princess X’s kingdom. Apparently, as the author let me know, Silverdale is also the name of a small town not far from where she currently lives in Tennessee. That Silverdale is best known for its enormous prison.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to one of our favorite bookstores, Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Without the fine folks here, we may never have discovered this book.
During a visit here for Independent Bookstore Day 2016, my daughter approached the woman in charge of stocking the youth section for a recommendation. After gushing together over several books they had both read and loved, especially my daughter’s previous favorite book, Dead City by James Ponti, the woman recommended my daughter pick up I am Princess X.
You can visit the Seattle Mystery Bookshop at http://www.seattlemystery.com