BOOKS: Machines, meteor dust and mysteries
“The Mark of the Dragonfly,” by Jaleigh Johnson, is likely one of the fastest-moving 400-page books I’ve ever read.
It all begins with Piper, a 13-year-old orphan who fixes the mangled objects and machines that fall from the sky during the meteor showers. It’s the only way she can make a living in the poverty-stricken Merrow district.
When Piper risks her life during a meteor shower to save a friend, she rescues an unconscious girl. Her wrist is marked with a costly dragonfly tattoo — a mark that ensures that she is protected by the rival King Aron.
As Piper quickly discovers, the girl (Anna) is pursued by Doloman, a man who claims to be her father. With ferocious protectiveness (and hope for a reward), Piper sneaks Anna on board the 401, a steam engine train headed for the rival Dragonfly territories. She must help Anna return home.
Surprisingly, the train becomes a haven, if not a home. Jeyne Steele, the engineer, loves with a determination matched by her name. Gee, the 13-year-old security adviser, is really a chamelin who can change into a dragon-like creature.
Trimble, the train’s fireman, helps Piper understand the mechanical magic she possesses. Meanwhile, Anna heals Gee with her brilliant scientific mind.
Yet staying on the train is as dangerous as leaving it. Doloman, Anna’s pursuer, also bears the mark of the dragonfly. And as Piper discovers, Anna’s life depends upon her.
“The Mark of the Dragonfly” is a mix of steampunk and fantasy. Machines, mysterious seers and poisonous meteor dust are part of the culture. However, the human elements remain central.
In fact, author Jaleigh Johnson allows Piper to struggle. After all, she always thought her skill as a machinist was a well-developed talent. What does it mean if it’s only magic? And what unnoticed talents and abilities do all of us possess beneath our exteriors?
“The Mark of the Dragonfly” will be remembered for its questions and cliffhangers. Yet the long-lasting marks of this book are compassion, loyalty and love.
“The Mark of the Dragonfl y.” By Jaleigh Johnson. Delacorte, 2014. 400 pp.