A young scrapper named Piper makes an extraordinary discovery during one of the deadly, but common meteor showers that fall near her village--a girl about her age who happens to be running from a strange man. The two find a means of escape upon a spectacular train bound in the right direction: far, far away.
Meteor showers that bring forgotten and far-away objects? Whole villages based off of this peculiar astronomical event? Cool. This is the kind of high-concept world I have been looking for. I flew through the opening.
Protagonist Piper is tough, no-nonsense, and inclined to stubbornness. She had to grow up fast without her father to look after her. Without that background, I would have questioned how mature she acts. The secondary protagonist, a girl named Anna who suffers from amnesia, is charming in her mannerisms and devotion to Piper. They bond over the course of the adventure; I felt that their relationship was one of the most satisfying parts of the book.
What disappointed me, however, was that the world-building almost seemed to cease once they boarded the armored train. Sure, we learn a few more little tidbits here and there, but where was the great description and talk of more meteor showers? Even the introduction of the secondary characters did not fully lessen the blow. They were supporting characters, sympathetic in their own sympathy for the plight of the two young travelers, but they did not stick out to me in any particular way. The sweetly innocent, and budding romance between the train's security chief and Piper came across as a little forced and unnecessary to the story--I groaned aloud. Why are so many teens and preteens being trusted with such important jobs? This isn't just a gripe with this particular book, but MG and YA as a whole. But enough about that.
Had there been an actual antagonist on board the train, there might have been more of a sense of urgency, but for me the action really dragged right until the end. The clues are there, of course, for the big reveal, but it was still a gratifying conclusion. There are so many series these days it's nice to see a fantasy/sci-fi book for younger readers that works as a standalone--I do not know if there are plans for a follow-up book, but at least the ending tied up the loose parts enough to leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction.
Even though the middle of this book really weighed down, I still enjoyed it. The Mark of the Dragonfly reminded me of all those books I hunted for in the library when I was twelve or thirteen--adventures with a hint of the fantastical that really drew me in. When I was thirteen I wasn't concerned with character development or plot movement. Heck no! I wanted magic and spaceships and dragons and sorcerers and more magic and did I say magic?
Meteor shower scrappers and hints of steampunk? Yes.
My thirteen-year-old self would have devoured this book and then been furious that there was no sequel yet written.
Ms. Johnson, please write another book in this 'verse--perhaps for the YA audience?
**note: I received an e-copy of this book from Netgalley/Random House Children's in exchange for honest feedback. **