Twelve-year-old Horace F. Andrews is a very logical person. So when he sees a sign with his name on it through a bus window on the way home from school, he can't quite convince himself that it's a coincidence--sure, Andrews is a common name, and the chances of having "F" as a middle initial seem greater than one in twenty-six, but...Horace? Definitely unusual.
He decides to investigate. And the results are most certainly not logical.
When Horace gets off the bus and looks for the sign, he stumbles into a towering man who smells of brimstone--and who no one else on the street seems able to see--who tells him that curiosity is a walk fraught with peril, his tone not a warning but a threat. Shaken, Horace slips away and finally finds the building the sign was advertising for: the House of Answers, which somehow only leads to more questions. He is introduced to Keepers of Tan'ji, or objects with magical powers--and is told that he, too, has the aptitudes necessary to bond with a Tan'ji and become a Keeper. And that the tall, brimstone-smelling man is one of the Riven, a people that has been fighting the Keepers for the Tan'ji for eons, and must be avoided at all costs.
Sure enough, Horace discovers his Tan'ji, an extraordinary box he immediately feels a bond with. Charged with uncovering the abilities of the box on his own, Horace slowly discovers its incredible powers, and in the process meets Chloe, a prickly girl who is bonded with her own Tan'ji and can see Riven, too. Together, Horace and Chloe might change the tide of an ancient war for the power of the Tan'ji, and Horace is willing to do anything to protect the box from the Riven. But the influence of the Riven runs deep, and they always seem to be a step ahead, threatening everything that Horace has gained.
Because Horace's instinct was correct: the box is extraordinary. And the Riven are determined to take it. At any cost.
The Box and the Dragonfly is a fast-paced, clever, and highly amusing fantasy that kept me engrossed for days. Although it's a fantasy, (with science fiction components), it strongly reminded me of the Mysterious Benedict Society books, especially the quirky characters and writing style--if Trenton Lee Stewart wrote a fantasy book, I suspect it would read a lot like this one. Horace is a smart, determined, appealing protagonist, Chloe is irritable and hilarious, and the other supporting characters each have their own distinct quirks and personalities.
As I was writing the above book description, I was struck by how many of the elements of The Box and the Dragonfly aren't uncommon in fantasy (scientifically inclined protagonist, ancient struggle, magical objects), yet the way Sanders uses them is genuinely fresh and unique, and one particular aspect of the generally excellent plot is truly original and different from anything I've ever read before! (The reader/writer part of me found the way the plot plays with time irresistible, and my astrophysics-enthusiast side greatly appreciated the references to gravitational time dilation...) Similarly, many of the powers the Tan'ji have aren't objectively super unusual, but the ways that the characters use them and the rules attached most certainly are. Filled with quirky characters and clever twists, plus one brilliant plot unfolding in multiple times (read it and you'll see what I mean!), I would highly recommend The Box and the Dragonfly to both dedicated fantasy/science fiction fans and readers new to the genre(s) ages nine and up.