★ Heart, brains and courage find a home in a steampunk fantasy worthy of a nod from Baum.
Thirteen-year-old Piper is a forthright machinist in dismal Scrap Town Number Sixteen (as charming as it sounds). Her skill at machine repair is unsurpassed, but the recent loss of her father has left her orphaned, with a need to trade destitution for something greener. While scavenging debris left by a violent meteor storm, Piper finds an unconscious girl, Anna, who wakes with severe amnesia and a propensity for analytical chatter and who bears the dragonfly tattoo given to those in the king’s inner circle. When a menacing man comes looking for Anna, the girls board the 401 (an antique locomotive run by a motley crew), radically accelerating Piper’s plans for a new life. Though Piper is initially driven by the prospect of a reward for returning Anna to what she assumes is a wealthy home, the staggeringly different girls eventually form a bond far stronger than just strategic alliance. Though there are initial echoes of Hunger Games–ian dystopian despair, these are quickly absolved as the book becomes something all its own. Consistent and precise attention to detail, from the functioning of a security system to the communicative abilities of a telepathic species, thrills. This is foremost a rugged adventure story, but there is a splash of romance (and a fabulous makeover scene).
A well-imagined world of veritable adventure. (Steampunk. 11-15) – Kirkus Reviews
★ Merging elements of dystopia, steampunk, and fantasy, this magnetic middle-grade debut imagines an alien world where 13-year-old Piper survives by working as a scrapper, salvaging artifacts left behind by meteor storms. Her life transforms when she rescues a mysterious girl in the aftermath of one such storm: Anna is brilliant yet disoriented, and she sports a tattoo signifying that she is held under the protection of the king of the Dragonfly territories. Piper knows that a reward awaits her if she returns Anna safely to her home. Yet passage on board the 401, a mile-long armored train, is beyond their grasp, and Anna is also being pursued by a ruthless, ominous man. With a setting drawn from an industrial revolution still in birthing pains, Johnson’s narrative is marked by colloquial language and blends societal decay with a sense of burgeoning technological innovation. Piper and her new ally, the enigmatic Gee, exhibit maturity and resourcefulness at every turn in a page-turner that defies easy categorization and ought to have broad appeal. Ages 10–up. - Publishers Weekly
★ Gr 4-8–In the future and on a ruined planet, orphaned Piper lives alone, making her living from mending the scraps she finds after the deadly meteor showers and dust storms that beleaguer the towns on the outskirts of civilization. She has an almost magical ability to fix things, mechanized things especially—it’s as though the objects want to be mended by Piper, and sometimes they will work only for her. One day Piper finds a young girl who is silent, amnesiac, and in terror of the man who hunts her. Marked by the tattoo of a dragonfly, the girl can’t hide until Piper spirits her away and, with the help of Gee (who can transform at will from handsome teenager to flying dragon), the stowaway girls find a safe home on steam train 401, hurtling through the hostile countryside towards King Aron’s kingdom. Johnson has brilliantly taken the dystopian genre to a level accessible to tween readers. The Mark of the Dragonfly is a fantastic and original tale of adventure and magic with steampunk elements and a little romance thrown in. The landscapes the girls pass through are imaginatively depicted and cinematically described (streets lit by glowing “night eye flowers”). Fierce battles are tempered with humor, and Piper is a heroine to fall in love with: smart, brave, kind, and mechanically inclined to boot!–Jane Barrer, United Nations International School, New York City – School Library Journal