The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson – Advance Review


Book Jacket:

Fans of The City of Ember will love The Mark of the Dragonfly, an adventure story set in a magical world that is both exciting and dangerous.

Piper has never seen the Mark of the Dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the Meteor Fields.

The girl doesn’t remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she’s from the Dragonfly Territories and that she’s protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home.

The one sure way to the Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect – everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible.

Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey.

You can read an excerpt here.


Somehow this book always managed to feel unexpected – even when I would think I knew where it all was going, somehow the story would always end up taking me by surprise – and that I really, really enjoyed. All in all just a fun adventure read.

Now there’s something hard to quantify about this story – as it rather defies easy explanation. It’s got some steampunk, some magical elements, some sci-fi stuff, and really just a bit of everything – from steam-powered trains to magical powers, from inter-dimensional junkyards to flying monsters, not to mention the telepathic aliens and hang-glider pirates – and it all makes for a really fun world to explore. But wild as all that may sound, the story never felt too over the top, or like it was spinning out of control, because it always remained very firmly centered on Piper, such that everything unfolded very organically around her. And while Piper’s story definitely has some classic orphan story overtones – girl alone against the world – what really makes this book work, and work well, is just how interesting Piper is, with what she has going on inside.

Because the thing about Piper, the delightful, fascinating thing about Piper is that she’s no fool, and she doesn’t have a heart of gold either. She’s a good person, sure – but Piper helps Anna as much to help herself as to do the right thing, and she knows it. And I loved how that conflict of interest bloomed into an inner struggle for Piper, as she came to care for Anna but also could never quite forget her own self-interests – because as a girl on her own, she can’t afford to. And so Piper has to weigh her survival, her prospects, against doing what’s best for Anna – and even against doing the right thing altogether – and I loved how, as a result, Piper ends up deciding on her own character for herself.

As for Anna, she’s fun too – though she definitely falls somewhere on the River Tam/Leeloo scale of walking McGuffin. But still, she’s a sweet, brains-over-common-sense type of girl, innocent in such a way as to make Piper’s choices – and sense of guilt – all the more difficult, especially as their relationship continues to grow – and that I really enjoyed (friendship over romance!) And then there’s Gee, the third major player in this story, who rubs Piper the wrong way from their very first meeting – and watching their antagonism play out over the course of the story was very fun to see. Overall there was definitely a sense of beginning to these characters, the sense of a team coming together – and even the first stirrings of a family being created – and that kind of team dynamic I just find impossible to resist.

As for the greater matters of war and politics that come crashing down on Anna and Piper – well, it all stays pretty broad. The ultimate reveal as to why the villain is being so villainous was pretty loosey-goosey – which did end up muting the stakes a bit. On the personal side, the story works well – aside from Piper’s big revelation coming rather out of left field (she dreams it, literally) – but on the plot side, while the story moves along well – in fact, it never once stops moving – and has action to spare, it also never really seems to build to a finale, which leaves the entire affair feeling more like a steady rhythm than a crescendo. But still, my interest never flagged, and all in all I was just highly engaged with, and happily entertained by, this story. 

In the end, this book is decidedly a fun, fresh, quick and easy read; a story that will never make you feel as though you’d read it all before. So if you’re a fan of Jenn Reese’s Above World, or Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse, you should definitely check this one out.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

The Bookshelf Pirate says:

The writing was straightforward and fun, the characters were delightful but realistic with faults and mistakes aplenty, and…I nearly did a heel-click from glee upon learning that there was no dreadful cliffhanger conclusion waiting to spoil my afternoon!

Kirkus Review (starred review) says:

Heart, brains and courage find a home in a steampunk fantasy worthy of a nod from Baum.