“Micah brought the music box to her on the night of the meteor storm.”
Piper and Micah are scrappers, people who live in shanty towns on the edge of meteor fields who make their living by scavenging the destruction left in the meteor storms’ wake; these storms rage through the sky every month and bring relics from other worlds with them. When Piper is caught out in a meteor storm one fateful evening, she sees a giant meteor decimate a caravan foolishly traveling in the open. When she goes to scavenge the remains, she finds a girl tattooed with the Mark of the Dragonfly, a mark that designates her as under the protection of the King of the Dragonfly Territories far to the south of Piper’s scraptown. Anna is a long way from home and doesn’t remember anything beyond her name, and of course there are sinister forces who want her back, so Piper bundles her off and the two of them hop on board a train heading to the Dragonfly Territories, whose crew has its own bundle of secrets. Cue adventures, misadventures, etc.
The opening of this book is excellent. The drama of huge meteors blazing across a jagged, mountainous landscape was intriguing, and I was excited to explore it, to meet its alien species and learn about its society. However, as the train roared south with Piper and Anna aboard, I found my interest lagging. The world never stopped being hella cool, but I felt like my understanding of it really just skimmed a very superficial surface. I get that this is a middle grade book and so she’s not going to have the elaborate world-building of, say, Dune, but in the end it seemed like she served me this really beautiful, elaborately frosted cake that was actually made of air when I bit into it.
I also couldn’t stay interested in the stock characters and so, even though they found themselves in almost constant peril, I wasn’t really sweating it. Piper didn’t seem to have any personality traits aside from being brave and throwing the dumbest temper tantrums ever, and Anna is just a brainiac. Plus, the whole girl mechanic assisting a frighteningly intelligent younger girl on an older but much beloved transport vessel as she flees dark empirical forces uh, reminded me a bit of the number one space western of my heart, Firefly, to the point that I couldn’t help but wonder if Johnson wasn’t kind of inspired by it. This isn’t necessarily something I had a problem with, just you know, something I noticed. A lot.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a page turner and a fun read. I think I gave it three stars or something on Goodreads. BUT. I finished it a week ago and I don’t have any lingering feelings about it after reading like I usually do when I read a really excellent book. It’s something that I think kids will for sure enjoy, but there are better books out there with better characters and story arcs that don’t fart out in the end.
For music, I’m going to go with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” because why not.