Jane Singer’s “Alias Dragonfly” is written from the perspective of a young woman acting as a spy for the Union during the Civil War, following the death of her mother and her father’s serving time as a soldier. Yet given a fascinating premise where 15-year old Maddie Bradford, sporting a photographic memory, is said to be recounting her spy activities and encountering enemies in a journey full of “dips and dangers” – I found it progressed quite pedantic compared to what the premise makes it out to be.
What one should know coming into this novel – it is based with several real historical figures being players in the novel – with conflict ranging in the infiltration of Confederate informants. I don’t debate the presence of those figures and their accuracy, not as much as there’s really not a compelling story to be had in the work for the most part. This is unfortunate because I saw quite a few places where Singer’s writing did pull me into one or two of the respective conflicts, but it wasn’t until well after the novel’s midpoint had passed, and even then the characters weren’t fully realized or developed progressively considering the age range this novel is intended for. The story doesn’t really start off with Maddie’s work as a spy as much as it builds up to the point where she becomes one, and as for the mysterious boy Maddie falls for? He’s not present enough in the novel to be a convincing love interest. It’s not established why Maddie’s drawn to him, or provided with the measure that he’s drawn to her. It feels forced, being told more than shown, which is something I could attribute to the collective work’s flaws – telling, not showing and lacking intimacy as well as sense of urgency for the themes it draws.
The novel concludes a bit abrupt, lending to a sequel presumably continuing Maddie’s work as a spy, but since there were so many threads that were established (i.e. the girl that looks like the protagonist, noted in the prologue) but subsequently dropped, “Alias Dragonfly” does not work well as a standalone novel and feels incomplete, ending before it truly begins. I wish I could give this novel a full recommendation, but unfortunately it fell flat for me in more ways than one. It’s at least worth trying to see some of the sparks in the writer’s style and moments where Maddie rises to the occasion of breaking gender barriers for her time, but much of it is overshadowed by storytelling that never quite finds its footing.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher Bell Bridge Books.