Author: Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science-Fiction
Format: eBook, 496 pages
Publisher: Quercus Children’s Books
Release Date: April 7th, 2016 (UK)
Rating: 2.5 out 5 stars
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.
After the success of The Darkest Minds trilogy, the pressure and expectations are at an all-time high for author Alexandra Bracken. In this book, she diverges from her futuristic dystopian setting and delves deep into world history and the fantastical element of time-travel. Passenger is a riveting tale about a 21st Century girl finding out about her time-travelling ancestry after she is kidnapped and taken back to 1776. There, the Ironwoods – the most influential time-travelling family – wait to give her a special mission – to recover a valuable artifact of great power. Along with Nicholas, a bastard in the Ironwood family, Etta must embark on a journey through time and space to find the missing artifact before time runs out. My feelings about Bracken’s previous work were mixed at best, but they did not trample my excitement about her future projects, and I eagerly awaited Passenger’s release. The book, unfortunately, falls flat for me as it is unable to deliver on what it promised to. That being said, there are several aspects of the book that save the book from being a complete flop in my eyes.
My main issue with Bracken’s newest book lie in the development. Passenger’s plot is not well-enough spaced out. The beginning starts out too slow and takes too long to pick up speed. It manages to draw me in once the action starts up, but loses me again when it comes back down. The movement resembles a wave diagram as it drops and consequently climbs up repeatedly. There is no doubt that the author can execute captivating, suspenseful scenes, but in this book they are few and too far in between, resulting in me skipping over certain paragraphs and character monologues. Once the scavenger hunt starts, things run too smoothly because the author spends too much time on exposition that there is simply not enough left for the search’s development. The last few chapters, however, almost make up for the lack of actual movement with their faster pace and growing anticipation.
The novel is told from two alternating points of view – those of Etta and Nicholas. Etta’s chapters were significantly larger in numbers, as she is our protagonist, but they do not outshine Nicholas’ in any way. Bracken delivers us with two strong leads, both well developed and characterized, but despite that, I failed to truly connect with Etta’s narration. She is a great character that no doubt many will fall in love with, but I am one of the minority that found her slightly aggravating and melodramatic. Nicholas, out of the two, is the highlight of this book as his backstory is thought out and executed far better. He is complex and he is not undermined as he struggles over his lack of options in the world he lives in. The topic on race and slavery, especially during that time period, is a very delicate one to breach, but Bracken approaches it with care and does not try to sugarcoat. However, Sophia, the secondary character turnt anti-hero, is who takes the cake with her complexity and thick layers. She is quite clearly not an antagonist, but still not part of the good guys’ squad either. Sophia is simply a girl, confident in her abilities, but stuck in a world where she is not given the opportunity to showcase them. Her struggle between seeking the recognition she deserves and family honour is what drew me in most.
The romantic subplot is completely lost on me as I did not once feel for, let alone believe in it. Despite not being instantaneous, the main character’s feelings are underdeveloped and not given the right amount of time to bloom, even though the author spends quite some time emphasizing on the impossibility of love between Etta and Nicholas. One thing that I do appreciate is how maturely each character reacted when the other’s true intentions are revealed. There is no dramatic “I trusted you!” moment and instead we get actual conversation and understanding on both parts.
Not a lot of people appreciate over-descriptiveness in novels, and quite often I am one of those people. However, in this particular case, I think the descriptions are what save the novel from crashing and burning spectacularly. Bracken proves once again she is a master of imagery, taking the reader all across the globe with her intricate designs of places far and wide. As this is a story of time-travel and the characters must go on a wild treasure hunt, it is expected that the book will span over various continents and time-periods, which can be challenging to write. The author has not let that scare her and faces the challenge head-on. It is quite obvious from the beginning that quite a lot of thought and research has gone into setting the stage and placing the right décor in the right places. There is logic and accuracy to every country and time Bracken takes us to which truly transports the reader to that particular location.
In conclusion, Passenger is a novel that, while failing to meet my expectations, is able to draw the attention in long enough for it to become bearable. With its compelling characters and vivid imagery, the story takes you on a journey that you reluctantly enjoy.