Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
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“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, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick 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.”
Ever since BEA earlier this year, the hype has been all too real for Alexandra Bracken’s upcoming YA time travel novel, Passenger. I adored The Darkest Minds trilogy, a gritty X-Men-esque survival story, so I had high hopes that Bracken would knock it out of the park with her new novel, out January 5. At the end of the day, however, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Nearly every review I’ve read of Passenger has sung its praises, touting it as Bracken’s best work. But I felt a bit underwhelmed, which is disappointing. Passenger was a highly anticipated 2016 release, but it ended up being a pretty middle of the road read for me.
I should have loved this book. It’s got time travel, epic romance, adventure, and secrets. Some of my favorite things! Plus there’s a healthy dose of pirates, and a portion of this book takes place at sea. The concept of this novel is so intriguing – a girl gets whisked into the past and discovers that she comes from a family of time travelers, but she has to go on a mission to find a missing object in order to return to her time. (This is like Outlander meets Doctor Who, amiright?) Every character in this book is ruthless, and that really enriched the reading experience for me, knowing that although there are some very likable or seemingly bland characters, each of them is willing to betray whoever it takes to achieve their ends (even in the name of good). We all know I love moral ambiguity.
Although this is billed as an adventure tale, Passenger is ultimately a love story. The romance between Etta and Nicholas, while bordering on insta-love, is sweet and pretty swoony, I can’t lie. They come from drastically different times, so seeing them try to bridge the cultural gap throughout their travels adds so much to their relationship. The tensions that arise between an 18th century guy and 21st century girl (hello, bare calves!), help to provide greater nuance to these characters, who on their own sometimes feel stiff. But the moments between them are very romantic, and I was absolutely rooting for these two throughout the story. I loved that we have an interracial couple front and center in a YA fantasy (YA anything, for that matter).
While I adored the relationship between Etta and Nicholas, this was not just a romance story. And it’s the time travel aspect that was a huge letdown for me. I found the world building and actual time traveling to be very confusing, and the explanations we get are sporadic and unclear. The reader is told that the stakes are incredibly high throughout the novel, but I never quite felt it. That’s probably because the book is so put-downable, which is a word I made up to describe how easy it is to put a book down and walk away from it. I did this several times during the first half of the book, because it took ages for anything to really happen. It isn’t even until halfway into this 400-page tome that Etta is actually tasked with the quest that is supposed to propel the entire duology’s storyline (yes, Passenger is the first in a series so hopefully the second book will clear up my issues with this one).
Passenger was a good read, especially after the halfway points when the action (and romance) picks up. But I was expecting a great read, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I pick up a time travel adventure story, I want to be unable to turn the page fast enough. So ultimately, while Passenger was a solidly good first book, it wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped, and I ended up underwhelmed. Hopefully the sequel, Wayfarer, will hit the ground running and pick up the pace from this first installment.
I’d still recommend this for fans of Alex Bracken and time travel stories, especially if you like your adventures with a healthy dose of romance.
Rating: 3.5 stars
*I received a free ARC via Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.