Published by Disney Hyperion on January 5, 2016
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 496 pages
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Violin prodigy Etta Spencer had big plans for her future, but a tragedy has put her once-bright career at risk. Closely tied to her musical skill, however, is a mysterious power she doesn’t even know she has. When her two talents collide during a stressful performance, Etta is drawn back hundreds of years through time.
Etta wakes, confused and terrified, in 1776, in the midst a fierce sea battle. Nicholas Carter, the handsome young prize master of a privateering ship, has been hired to retrieve Etta and deliver her unharmed to the Ironwoods, a powerful family in the Colonies–the very same one that orchestrated her jump back, and one Nicholas himself has ties to. But discovering she can time travel is nothing compared to the shock of discovering the true reason the Ironwoods have ensnared her in their web.
Another traveler has stolen an object of untold value from them, and, if Etta can find it, they will return her to her own time. Out of options, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the mysterious traveler. But as they draw closer to each other and the end of their search, the true nature of the object, and the dangerous game the Ironwoods are playing, comes to light–threatening to separate her not only from Nicholas, but her path home… forever.
Time travel! Romance! A hunt for hidden artifacts!
Alexandra Bracken’s latest book, Passenger, tells the story of teen violinist Etta Spencer, who is pushed through a wormhole on the night of her debut and ends up on an 18th century ship en route to New York. Etta quickly learns she’s been kidnapped by the head of a family of time-travelers who are holding her mother as hostage and who want her to retrieve something her mother stole many (many, many) years ago that could (literally) change the course of human history. Her mother’s hidden it away in time and left a series of clues only Etta can decipher that send her to different periods of human history. Think of it as “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” but instead of chasing Carmen Sandiego through history, Etta and her partner are chasing down a priceless, dangerous artifact. To find it, they have to locate and travel through different passages between times.
There is intrigue – should Etta return the artifact to the unscrupulous head of the Ironwood family in return for her mother’s safety? Why has her mother, (apparently) notorious time-traveler Rose Linden, never told Etta anything at all about their shared talents? Will her partner and love interest, Nicholas Carter, double-cross her? There is also romance, which, P.S., was by far the most unsatisfying part of the story for me. This is … for reasons I will explain later, but which you can probably see coming. And there is a lot of action – for a book that started very, very slowly for me, the plot picked up nicely. Despite this, I wasn’t always satisfied with the narrative choices that Bracken made: why, for example, she sets up the excitement of a treasure hunt through time which she then immediately deflates by View Spoiler » having Etta realize that she doesn’t actually need to really decode her mother’s note very much at all! Because her mom’s been telling her everything she needs to know in stories for the past 16 years! And so she quickly figures out everywhere she needs to go like … hangs in a series of pictures on the walls of their apartment back home. Super disappointing if you are a puzzle-loving human like me. I felt like it also took away some of the excitement from Etta and Nicholas’s traveling through time – they’re just looking for portals rather than trying to figure anything out? « Hide Spoiler
What I liked about Passenger: I thought the characterization was mostly pretty strong. I liked Etta, I liked how independent she was, and I liked that although she initially begins the novel as a passenger on Nicholas’s ship (you may have seen the following quote floating around: “you are my passenger, and I will be damned before I let any harm come to you”) Etta’s more interested in protecting herself and protecting the people she loves than in being rescued. She spends a loooot of time thinking about how she’s going to rescue various people from their fates and having to resign herself to the possibility that maybe she just can’t. Nicholas’s motivations are also very clear – he’s a reluctant member of the Ironwood family and just wants to escape their clutches and take to the sea because they’re effing awful – but he has a strong moral compass and wants to pursue his own interests while hurting other people as little as possible. (Totally legitimate).
While I didn’t really understand Etta and Nicholas’s *romantic* relationship, I did like that it’s mostly spared of unnecessary confusion. (You know, in romances sometimes, how you’re like, “Augh, all this heartbreak could be stopped if you would only just talk to each other!?!” This … happens a lot and it is a thing that makes me ragey.) There’s a moment fairly early in the book, where Nicholas is trying to figure out whether Etta has been coerced into traveling to New York, and … he very quickly figures out that she’s been coerced! And they move forward from there with very little drama. Additionally, later in the book, when Nicholas’s deep dark secret gets revealed, View Spoiler » that he’s been planning to take the priceless artifact back to Grandfather Ironwood for fairly solid reasons « Hide Spoiler they just communicate and it’s resolved! It works. So, while I didn’t get the instalove! heart-eyes! care bear-stare! that Etta and Nicholas seem to experience for each other, their actual relationship seems fairly functional. It’s just that it happens very quickly – to the point where after one conversation (after which they are able to exchange no more than four words), another character is all like, “Wink, wink, nod nod, Nicholas … the two of you just fit together, you know?” So while I felt like I got Etta and Nicholas independently, I didn’t understand what drew them to each other at all.
But whatever, other people may ship them! I’m just not convinced that theirs is a love story for the ages yet.
This brings me to my last problem with Passenger. While I liked it a lot, and thought it was a really interesting read, the pacing of the book felt somehow off to me. Even though the plot is consistently interesting, the energy behind that wasn’t always sustained, I felt? Some examples: Etta’s performing at her debut! She travels through time! She’s onboard a ship, whaaaat! And then … fast forward ten days. (Why do we skip that time? Etta’s just lost someone who’s basically raised her and is grieving and adjusting to being in the 18th century and being held hostage and … we miss that entirely?) It’s how I felt about the beginning of Etta’s search for her mom’s stolen artifact, too – a really interesting set-up (we’re decoding clues! it could be hidden anywhere in time!) that quickly changes to focus on something else (a backdrop for Etta and Nicholas’s developing relationship). And, once again, this happens at the end: we’re given a bunch of fairly shocking revelations View Spoiler » Etta’s mom killed Alice! Etta is alive! Nicholas’s brother is alive! Etta needs to destroy the artifact or everything is screwed! Ahhhh! « Hide Spoiler the book just … ends. It’s a cliffhanger, I know, but there’s all this energy, and it’s all being funneled towards something but we never actually get there in this book.
I will say that although Passenger is a very different book from Bracken’s The Darkest Minds series – which I just read in 2015, by the way, so it feels very fresh to me – in some ways, the series have a similar feel. They’re both very fast-paced, both feature fearless protagonists (Etta is better developed than Ruby, I think), and um, I read them both very, very quickly because I wanted to know what happened next. 😉
Have you read Passenger yet? If so, what did you think?
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.