Book Review: Mark of the Dragonfly by Bobbie Shafer

This is the story of a boy named Caleb who was given up for adoption as a baby. He is raised at a horrible orphanage until he’s rescued by a relative who opens his eyes to an entire world of magic that exists. He is taken to Elemental in order to catch up on his training (it took many years for Caleb to be found, and he is late in starting his training). When he arrives, things get heated quickly, with the magical world being attacked by enemies.Picture

For me, the story began with tension in the very first pages—a father having to give up his boy for adoption at an orphanage he knew was not ideal (or else risk the infant dying). It was a poignant chapter and had me cheering for the characters to succeed. This scene was very effective: it slowed the action down to provide indirect characterization of the father, the orphanage staff, and even the baby.

But the plot quickly sped up and turned “happy” with Caleb being adopted a few years later and the orphanage being punished and reformed for its terrible treatment of children. (Tension could have been increased by focusing on how he made it through all those years, making the reader more desperate to see the orphanage punished). The tension for me was then lost until halfway through the book, when the attacks on Elemental began. In the middle part prior to the attack, too many happy things were happening, and there was always description of all the types of food the children were being served for meals. Trying to put myself back into my childhood days, food was not a primary interest, but I would definitely have pondered other details, such as the appearance of the magical creatures, arriving in a new world, etc.

I enjoyed the plot of this tale, but a problem I have with any books about wizarding or magic schools is that I can’t help comparing them to Harry Potter. This is no fault of any of the authors—just something that can’t be helped. That said, my main suggestion for this book would be to focus more on showing rather than telling. The book is told from a largely omniscient perspective, which makes it easy for us to understand the whole story. But at times I longed for a more limited point of view, especially from Caleb’s perspective. I wanted to experience the story from a child’s point of view. There would obviously be so many complex feelings involved in being adopted, discovering a family, discovering magic, and discovering latent abilities—and having to confront hidden memories from a forgotten past. Because of the omniscient perspective, I felt that Caleb accepted things too readily, and the story happened too quickly.

What I enjoyed the most was the message woven throughout the text. The people of Elemental, while not overtly religious, have strong faith in the world, a higher power, whatever you want to call it. This faith helps them know themselves and understand their place in the world and beyond it. This contrasts sharply with the enemies Caleb encounters, who have a selfish and confused view of the world that leaves them lost. I enjoyed this message, as I believe all fantasy stories ultimately come down to a discussion over philosophy of life, with magic and other elements helping us to metaphorically understand ourselves better.

The author clearly has a great imagination. I would suggest slowing down the plot to let us experience things from Caleb’s perspective. Still, this was a fast, imaginative read with a  great message.