Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

May 21, 2014 4 stars, Book Review 24 ★★★★

Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh JohnsonThe Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Series: The Mark of the Dragonfly #1
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 25, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade & Childrens
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

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.


The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson is an enjoyable read, light on the steampunk and heavy on emotions. Piper is a 13 year old orphan who will steal your heart with her courage and astound you with her bravery. This is not surprising considering that the main characters are all 13 and under. It is at it’s heart a children’s book, but like the Harry Potter Series this is worth a read. Jaleigh Johnson does an excellent job setting up an interesting world where meteor storms bring debris from other places, and the people who populate this world called Solace are wrapped up in exploration, war and hard scrabble living. The Mark of the Dragonfly has enough elements of steampunk that I would consider it to fall under this genre. Enter Piper, our main character.

Piper is an orphan who lives in a scrap town, Scrap Town 16 to be exact. Scrap towns have evolved around an area where there are regular meteor strikes. The people who live in them are called scrappers, and they work hard to salvage and repair things that have survived the impact of the meteors. The goal is to find something very valuable to move into the cities and live like the rich people do. There is a classic rich/poor schism throughout the story. The rich are extremely rich and well off, and they are disinterested in the lives of the poor who are extremely poor and struggling just to exist. Piper is an orphan, her father died while working in a factory that produces the airships and other exploration vehicles King Aron requires. Piper is angry with the King for having these dirty factories which spew toxic smoke and cost her father his life because of the poor working conditions. No OSHA there, people! In the past, Piper supplemented her and her fathers income by tinkering and fixing machines. After her father’s death about 2 years prior to the start of the story, she supported herself as a machinist. She has a special touch with machines that she slowly discovers throughout the book. She is courageous, smart, tenacious and all-over lovable.  I don’t say that because I love her name, which happens to be my daughter’s name as well ;)… but because it is true. Here is a quote which I think illustrates her perfectly.

…it’s all right to be afraid, but you can’t let that stop you from doing what you have to do.  I’ve never seen you put that incredible brain to work under pressure, and I have faith in you.  We can do this .  – Piper

This quote represents her personality well, and throughout the book she overcomes many obstacles even though she is quaking in her boots. I can only hope that my Piper will show the same resilience and adaptability. Piper takes what she is given, and she manages to make it work out over and over.  In the quote above she is speaking about Anna, a mysterious girl that changes Piper’s world forever.

Anna is younger than Piper and there is an immediate connection between the two. Piper rescues her from the splinters of a caravan that was hit by a meteor. She sees an intricate dragonfly tattoo, which means that Anna is under the protection of Kind Aron, whom she blames for her father’s death. Piper sets off with Anna to return her home and hopefully collect a reward which will help her leave her scrap town forever. A large part of the story involves Piper’s internal debate about leaving her home and the people there she has loved.  Anna turns out be be a chatty girl with strange memories that slowly return and almost encyclopedic knowledge of random information.  I knew that I liked Anna, and something she said correlates with something I feel to be true about myself.

“Oh, well, I just read the books,” Anna said sounding embarrassed. “I‘m starting to think I may have read a lot of books.  When I read them now, it’s as if I’m getting reacquainted with old friends. Does that sound strange?”

I too feel as if books are old friends. I know it sounds silly, but there is an element of truth in it regardless and it comforted me to read my feelings expressed. Even without the give and take of a human-human friendship, characters in a book can indeed be our friends.

Anna and Piper go on a journey together in The Mark of the Dragonfly, and I was glad to tag along. They meet the interesting and ferocious Gee with beautiful green eyes that captivate Piper (uh-oh!), Sarnuns with telepathic and other abilities and they travel on the 401 train. The 401 is a marvel of technology with fire ducts and dart traps to ward off raiders, a library, a viewing gallery and any other comforts you could imagine on an old west style train. Their adventure is riveting and full of danger and sometimes beauty. Jaleigh Johnson does a good job setting this series up, and this first book is a great starting point to a confrontation between the two lands of Solace, the disparity between the rich and the poor and  the interpersonal relationships between the characters themselves. The Mark of the Dragonfly is not a complicated read, which befits it’s status as a children’s book, but it is still an interesting story and well written. There are fun twists throughout the story and a lot of growth for each character. It is certainly worth your time, and I think it is an excellent introduction to steampunk… this was my first!

*gasp* This book was provided by the publisher! No worries though it’s an honest review and all opinions expressed are my own. Quotes are taken from an Advanced edition and may have changes in the published edition. This post might also contain affiliate links. To view my full Blog Policy, click here.


When not taking care of my two children, husband and mini doxy, rushing here and there on the go, I can always be found reading. Fantasy of course being my favorite genre, but not the only I'll read. Oh yes, and I throw bad books.

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24 Responses to “Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson”

  1. Mogsy

    This sounds so great! Tabitha would have heard my rant about how I never got a copy from Random Buzzers before their community folded. Can’t say I really cared that much before, but that was before I started seeing such great reviews for this! I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that it’s steampunk as well, though I suppose the cover should have clued me in a bit. I’m happy to hear you had a good first experience with it 😀
    Mogsy recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday 05/21/14My Profile

  2. Melliane

    Oh it’s so nice! I don’t think I’ve ever read a middle grade steampunk book but it intrigues me. Mainly as you had a good time with it. Thanks for the lovely review!

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      Agreed – I haven’t read a steampunk MG book but I think I’ve read The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson and that isn’t steampunk but it’s kind of hmmm clockpunk? It’s all wind up stuff and technically the kid is 15 but he felt like he was 12 to me.

      I’m definitely going to have to try this one.
      Tabitha (Pabkins) recently posted…Review: The Forever Watch by David RamirezMy Profile

  3. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I definitely agree about books being old friends. Some you’ll visit again and again and some will just remain in your memory. Anna and Piper sound like great characters, each capable and unique in their own ways. While I do wish there was a bit more steampunk in there, I think I’ll have to check this out!
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Waiting On: THE MIME ORDER by Samantha ShannonMy Profile

  4. Nathan (@reviewbarn)

    This actually sounds pretty good, something I would not have guessed I would have liked by the description. But maybe I am just a sucker for a train.

  5. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    This sounds like such a cute, adventure read! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much – children’s books these days are often hit or miss for me – if it’s too young I can’t find the same enjoyment. It’s interesting that this mixes steampunk as well!

    • Maggie Jones

      I agree about children’s lit being hit or miss! The Mark of the Dragonfly didn’t over-explain like a lot of children’s lit, leaving you to figure it out based on content so that was nice. It also dealt superficially with adult themes as opposed to in-depth in childish ones which helps an adult to connect. Happy reading!
      Maggie Jones recently posted…Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh JohnsonMy Profile

  6. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    This does sound like a lot of fun, and I’ve definitely had my eye on it. I was a bit hesitant b/c I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but I might have to make an exception for this. Anna and Piper both sound like a LOT of fun. Wonderful review, Maggie!