Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken


2 – 2.25 stars

Passage, n.
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.

I feel terrible for giving Passenger a 2-star rating, because I normally adore time-travel concepts and all the science and intrigue that comes in the package. While I appreciate the amount of research put into this book, I’m afraid that its writing style and overall pacing tarnished any chances of me giving it higher than 3-stars. It’s definitely meant for a certain reader, and unfortunately, that reader isn’t me.

Passenger starts off with Nicholas’ perspective in a quick scene which is exemplified later on, but the main story truly begins with Etta, a teenage violin virtuoso that has approximately 20 min. until she gets on stage and performs. We are introduced to Rose, Etta’s seemingly distant mother who has an unknown and important past relevant to time-travel, and Alice, Etta’s elderly, intelligent violin teacher who also plays a key role. After a few confusing events prior to the show, as Etta takes the stage, she finds herself whisked away (with some side effects) to a ship in 1776 by Sophia Ironwood, a bold young traveler. From there, she finds herself acquainted with Nicholas, a young African-American sailor, and they travel to meet with Cyrus Ironwood, the leading man of the powerful Ironwood family who has kept tabs on the timeline for centuries. Cyrus reveals to Etta the extensive history behind her mother and the important object she stole, the astrolabe. Etta and Nicholas are assigned to bring it back, but they have their own agendas as they travel together. Dangerous antics and budding romance ensue.

While the concept was certainly interesting, the writing style immediately turned me off. I like sophisticated writing, but the style presented here was detached, draggy, and lacking in character. I was consistently met with Etta and Nicholas’ endless internal monologues, documenting every detail they had noticed about an era, a person, or a physical characteristic. You won’t believe the amount of pages that Nicholas’ internal monologue on Etta took up, the repeated rhetorical questions, the musings, the oh-so-immense angst! It was laughably long and pretentious. Again, I do like formal writing from time to time, but it needs to have personality and enough character to not bore me. I’m not sure if this is Bracken’s usual writing style (I haven’t read The Darkest Minds), but she definitely could have at least told the story in a first-person perspective, at least! The pacing was also extremely slow, no doubt due to the explanation of every little detail. Details, details, details! If you love big-ass paragraphs of details, this is your next favorite book. For me, it was torturous.

Frustratingly, the characters were directly influenced by the distant narrative, so they were lacking in any sort of personality. Etta was incredibly stale, there is absolutely no purpose in her narration and despite reading nearly 200 pages in her narration (well I actually skimmed a few… okay I skimmed a lot) Etta remains an entirely inconsistent, pedestrian character. There is absolutely no attempt of humor, personality, or even a hint of feistiness, even when Etta was describes as “wily and cunning” by Cyrus Ironwood himself. To add to this spectacle, everyone is consistently kissing her ass as Etta poses as a cliche of a strong and independent female character. Nicholas is tad more tolerable. I loved the fact that he is African-American (diversity!), and his thoughts on the mistreatment of his race at the time, as well as his own troubled, mysterious past was actually interesting. But, due to the writing again, Nicholas wasn’t that interesting and I actually found his point-of-view, well, pointless. Nicholas was also far too angsty for my tastes, a little is fine, but when you’re rambling in almost a Shakespearean-type of way, that’s too dramatic for me. This is especially evident when he talks to himself about Etta. He’s lusting for her, but that lust is actually amplified by 100 times, resulting in long, monotonous paragraphs describing her wonderful personality or whatever. -__-

Their romance is simultaneously slow burn and quick, if that makes any sense. From the moment they lock eyes for the first time, Nicholas and Etta immediately start lusting for each other, acting like they aren’t completely different strangers thrown together in an awkward situation. Oh, anything but that. It helps that Nicholas is so damn protective over her (to a scary degree), Etta is just waiting to jump into his arms, and that they are so invested in each other 200 pages in, they just stare into each other’s eyes and fret about it instead of doing some actual work.

My only consolation rests in the time-travel concept (which I am helplessly biased toward) and the rich, intriguing history behind the four ruling families of the timeline. I didn’t think the world-building was all that confusing either, and I loved the amount of research gone into describing the places Etta and Nicholas travel to, such as Syria, Cambodia, and others.

Overall, Passenger is certainly meant for a certain reader, one that doesn’t mind a slow pace, detailed writing, and somewhat emotionally detached characters. It definitely wasn’t my cup of tea, but the ending is a nasty cliffhanger and I might just consider reading the next one, just to see what happens.