Passenger: Review

January 6, 2016 2016, 3.5 star books, alexandra bracken, historical, Layla, sci fi or futuristic 18 ★★★½

Passenger: ReviewPassenger by Alexandra Bracken
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 5, 2016
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 496 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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 »

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 » 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 » 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?

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


18 Responses to “Passenger: Review”

  1. Bianca

    Hi! I really love the layout of your blog, and the style of your review. It really was a good book!

  2. Jen @ The Bookavid

    I haven’t read any of Bracken’s books before and I’m really curious about this. So many people seem to love Passenger and that whole time travel premise seems exactly right up my alley. Excited for this!

  3. Carina Olsen

    Awesome review Layla. <3 Yay for enjoying this book a lot :D But ugh, I'm sorry you didn't love it :\ And aw, I'm sorry you didn't really get the romance. Though you make me think I will LOVE it, lol :D YAY for no drama, like other books. <3 Makes me very happy. But ugh. Mean ending? How unfair. Thank you for sharing about this one sweetie :)
    Carina Olsen recently posted…In My Mailbox #219

    • Layla

      Haha, I do actually think you will like this one quite a lot, Carina. I did really, really like it – even more than Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy, if it comes down to it, and not just because I’m a sucker for time travel. I think I’m just incredibly picky and weird when it comes to romance and I don’t think most people are going to have my very particular reaction to the romance in this. I will say that unlike many romances, I think the relationship is a good one? Like I said, I think their communication skills are pretty great, it’s just that the basis of their relationship needed some building up for me.

      THE ENDING, AUGH. It’s just very cliffhanger-y. And I need to knoooowwwww.
      Layla recently posted…Wonders of the Invisible World: Review

      • Carina Olsen

        Hi :D

        Ahhh. I actually read this one last week, lol :D And, well I gave it three stars. <3 But not bad three stars. I liked it a lot, actually. But it just wasn't perfect sadly :p But oh my gosh, yes, that ending is SO MEAN. How awful. I need book two to be amazing and happy, lol :) But aw, I actually loved the romance, lol :)
        Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #223

    • Layla

      I never read the BEA ARC! I gave mine away, so this is all I read. I’m kind of curious about how it was different – would be interesting and kind of cool to see how it changed!! I do want to read a finished copy of this though, if only because I feel like I read differently on eReaders (particularly on my iPhone!) than I do with a paper book, and I think especially with Passenger it might make a difference. So, before the next book comes out, I’ll read a finished copy!
      Layla recently posted…Wonders of the Invisible World: Review

  4. Lectus

    I love love love the cover. Unfortunately, I am not reading because I couldn’t stand her other book, The Darkest Minds.

    • Layla

      Ah, bummer. They’re thematically quite different, so I guess it depends on why you couldn’t stand TDM? Although I guess if you disliked it that strongly perhaps you’ve no reason to want to try Passenger out. I quite liked it, though!!

  5. Gwen @ The Book Lounge

    So many people got ARC’s of this one. I did not but it sounded like something I would enjoy. After reading and watching several reviews, I definitely want to pick this one up! Thanks for the awesome review.I’m just trying to finish her Darkest Minds trilogy before diving in.
    Gwen @ The Book Lounge recently posted…The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

    • Layla

      You should do! I want to pick up a print copy since I only read an eArc and I think it’d change my reading experience to actually flip through the pages of this one. How have you liked her Darkest Minds trilogy? I tore through that this fall.

  6. Kelly

    I’m hearing so many good things about this one, and I’m really looking forward to reading it when I get the chance!

  7. Alexa S.

    Oh, I really enjoyed Passenger! I basically flew through the pages once I’d started it, and was super interested in finding out where everything and everyone would be at the end of the story. What I loved best about it, in hindsight, are Nicholas and Etta as individuals. I was drawn to both of them for different reasons, and it was really cool to get to know them better as the story moved forward! Definitely looking forward to Wayfarer now…
    Alexa S. recently posted…A Truthwitch Affair: {Bookish} Style Files

    • Layla

      Yeah, same. I think the first 50-100 pages were slow-going for me, but after that, the plot really grabbed my attention. And like you, I was really drawn to Etta and Nicholas as individuals, even if I wasn’t super into them as a couple. (I also liked how many different “passengers” and “passages” we get in this book, too – I noticed that on the GR summary and couldn’t stop thinking about it when I was reading the book.)

      Looking forward to Wayfarer for sure, and … kind of glad it’s a duology. I don’t think my heart could stand another cliffhanger like that.

    • Layla

      Ooh, yay. Glad you’re enjoying it! I did really like it – and read through it in almost one sitting. Bracken’s writing is usually pretty good at capturing my attention and this wasn’t an exception.