Passenger (Passenger #1)
By: Alexandra Bracken
Publication Date: January 5th 2016
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
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.
Alexandra Bracken is an author who I want to love, but don’t know if I can. I read The Darkest Minds, laboriously, but just straight up quit when I got to Never Fade. I picked up Passenger hoping for another chance, and hoping that the author’s sophomore series would be better. But even though I wanted to like Passenger, I never got to the point of loving it.
One issue is that the book starts very slowly, and even once things going they feel disconnected. We’re introduced to Etta, a seemingly isolated and fragile girl who’s a violin virtuoso, as she’s obsessing over her relationship with her mom (who is alternatingly loving and distant). Then we have her recital, which goes horribly awry, and then somehow we–and Etta–end up on the deck of a sailing ship in 1776.
Her new companion, Sophie, explains things: she and Etta both have an inherited ability to travel through various passageways in time and explore different eras. They have traveled through this particular passageway because Etta’s mother Rose managed to escape the powerful Ironwood clan, who otherwise has subdued and absorbed all of the other time travelers, and they’re determined to bring Etta back into the fold. Oh, and the pirate/privateer captain of the ship, Nicholas, is really hot and also saves Etta from drowning as a meet-cute.
There are good and interesting things about this book: the descriptions, for one. I enjoyed traveling through the Luxembourg gardens, into Angkor Wat, past Colonial New York, and all of the other places that Etta scrambles through. But that feeds into the disconnected feeling of the book–the sudden, abrupt changes of scenery and place are charming, but make it hard to feel drawn in. And although the plot is interesting, it’s hard to say that it’s compelling.
I felt similarly disconnected from Etta. In the beginning she seemed to be a total mouse–isolated, without any companionship besides her mother and her instructor, unable to relate to any of the other teens around her. This impression of her made her sudden surge of bravery on the ship feel like it came out of nowhere–and it felt like she kept alternating between being a fragile little mouse and sudden incomprehensible spurts of bravery. It didn’t feel consistent to me.
And I had similar problems with the other females in the book, Rose and Sophia. I felt like Rose’s backstory couldn’t entirely explain her behavior towards her daughter–she was almost sociopathic in how she treated Etta. And Sophia was a horrible person, but in a way that felt almost like a caricature. She was so ambitious, but so incompetent with it, that it was really just kind of strange. And her instant hate of Etta was also puzzling. I could somewhat understand her hate of Nicholas, if only because of racism, but the reasons the plot gave for her emnity of Etta just didn’t make sense to me. Sophia seemed to hate Etta just because it suited the plot, not because she had any real reason to.
I did like Nicholas, though. He was a complex character–a black guy born in an era where the color of your skin meant a whole lot. I also liked that he wasn’t just a token diverse character, but that he was deeply aware of what it meant to be a free man born of a slave. I also liked how it shaped his relationship with the Ironwoods and added real complexity to how we saw them. Nicholas is a painstakenly well-written character, and I appreciate it, even if he is prone to being moody and dramatic.
I also really liked his relationship with Etta, even though it did start off smelling of Instalove. There was this ‘I have a connection with this person’ thing, but they did also build a solid relationship from that. And it was based off of trust and partnership, not just romance (although what there was was steamy). I also thought that Nicholas did a solid job of protecting Etta when she needed it, but also standing aside and letting her do her thing during her occasional badass moments.
But also, I have a major problem with the relationship in that it’s stated that there’s a decent chance Etta and Nicholas share a father–and NO ONE SEEMS TO REMEMBER OR CARE. There’s a vague mention of how Etta doesn’t look like an Ironwood, but that little detail isn’t actually cleared up until the end of the book. And yes, things get *steamy* before then.
One thing that I did genuinely like about the book was the treasure-hunt-through-time plot. Things with the politics of the Ironwoods and the other Families, and the random unexplained rogue people, and the whole system of guardians, and…well, a lot of the book feels needlessly confusing. But at its heart, it’s a solid romp of a plot with pretty descriptions and a nice romance. Yes, there are other things to criticise about it, but I’m also nitpicky. And I thought it was a good book to read by the pool, even if it’s not going on my personal bookshelf.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.