This is a great book for the age range recommended (10 years and up). Within these 400 pages is a fun, magical adventure that most ten-year-old will love. I can easily see THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY turned into a successful movie that will crowd theaters and sell tons of DVDs. It’s perfect for that. The story is a bit too formulaic and requires too much suspension of belief for an adult audience to truly enjoy; there’s plenty of other high-quality reading in this genre for adults to dig into.
One of the key ingredients in this type of novel is world building. The book’s author, Jaleigh Johnson, does a pretty good job of making a cohesive world. Her video game and fantasy background translate well into the creation of this universe. There’s just enough fantasy, sci-fi, and even steampunk to make this trip magical. Kids may not mind this as much, but I was a bit bothered by the idea of people sustaining themselves with junk that fell out of the sky. And I was going bonkers by the 50th repetition of “oh goddess” (think any phrase we use like “oh God”, or “God help me”, or “for God’s sake”, and replace “God” with “goddess”—it got a little old after a while).
So that you understand the whole junk falling out of the sky thing, let’s talk a bit about the story. Some of it is really good. You have one group of people that collect and fix junk that falls from the sky in the form of meteorites from other planets. Piper, one of the main girls, is one of these people. She finds a wounded girl, Anna, crashed out at this caravan. Anna’s memory is hit-and-miss, but Anna has the mark of the dragonfly (an elaborate tattoo). These dragonfly-marked people are rare, kingly, and powerful. After running into the protagonist, who at first is called “the wolf”, Piper takes Anna on the run to return to her kingdom.
There’s the key ingredient: Piper and Anna. Their relationship really drives the story. As they encounter numerous obstacles, we see them develop as friends to the point of an almost sisterly relationship. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but pay attention to the boy named Gee on the 401 train. He’s really cool. There are a few more interesting characters, but readers will have no trouble keeping everyone straight.
The main problem I had with character development revolved around the man they initially call “the wolf” and Micah. “The wolf”, whose name I’ll save for you to discover, is the protagonist, and a weak one at that. He could have been more conniving, more secretive, or more powerful. He’s pretty cut and dry and a bit difficult to buy into. And Micah—I don’t get him at all. You look at the first chapter of the book (check out the preview pages on Amazon) and it would seem he would be a main character. He’s referenced several times throughout the book, too (i.e., paraphrasing: “remember Micah, who we left at home”). I don’t understand why they needed to include him at all.
Overall, the story is a bit slow to build-up, but has plenty of action rolling past the halfway point, including a big piece of action at the 75% mark. I also couldn’t buy some of the character development choices—they seemed to change their minds too quick, without much coxing. Some of the space and medical science seemed far-fetched. I think the author has a great career ahead of her, especially in involving lots of types of characters battling against each other. The book is clean (both of gore and sex), so parents can let their kids have some guilt-free, imaginative fun with this one.
Thank you to Random House Children’s for providing me with a review copy of this book.