Written by: Alexandra Bracken
Book #1 / ? of the Passenger series
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Summary: 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.
“It’s our choices that matter in the end. Not wishes, not words, not promises.”
Review: So after many, many, many recommendations to me to read this book, as a lover of sci-fi fantasy, historical fiction, and YA novels, I finally found a copy at my local library – and let me just say, I’m so happy I did. This book honestly exceeded my expectations; any time a book is super hyped up, it usually disappoints me in one way or another, so now I always try to set the bar low. However, Passengers does not fit into that previous category.
Bracken has taken a tale-as-old as time (time traveling) and developed to not only encompass the present day world, but to actually use it as part of a plot rather than just going back into the past because someone can. That being said, she also makes it plenty clear the reprecussions that time travelers face if they end up changing anything in the past or if they run into themselves time traveling, and I think that’s something that is sometimes overlooked in a lot of time traveling tales. Bracken has effectively developed a realistic (for lack of a better word) system by which people time travel, and the connection to the story as the two main characters time travel back and forth throughout history to solve a puzzle and find a hidden object all while maintaining and learning these rules flows very easily. As for the plot actually surrounding the characters, it is also, for lack of a better word, realistic. Bracken brings the reader back down to Earth by proposing a science fiction plot line and idea but also implements it by making the reasons behind the actions and the events within extremely human and easy to understand. The characters, despite their amazing ability, are easy to relate to – even the ones I’d rather not understand – and the adventures they go on are enticing and incredibly interesting to read.
While there are many notable characters in the book, there are but a few that matter. First, there’s Etta, our main character and protagonist, who I actually thoroughly enjoy. (I know – I was surprised, too.) Although I’m still not 100% sure why the author had to make her a violin prodigy, I think that Bracken otherwise manages to make Etta incredibly real. I’m a bit confused about her relationship with her mother, as well as a bit annoyed about her origins (in fear of saying too much, I will just say that Etta verges dangerously into Mary Sue territory at times), I think Etta’s whole reaction to being able to time travel is pretty much how most people would react to it. She’s strong and intelligent despite the fact that she is literally being thrown into this world that she knows so little about, and I gain a lot of respect for her, especially when she basically shoots down Nicholas any time he, as the nineteenth-century male he is, tries to be patronizing. Don’t get me wrong; Nicholas is also incredible as an additional protagonist, providing the experience and guidance that Etta needs in her time traveling. He can also be pretty humorous at times, and his loyalty is second to none. Write it up to the fact that he is a black man from an era in which slavery was still prevalent, or he was raised by a gentleman sailor who nailed manners into him, but sometimes Nicholas is a little too proper. I love that he basically becomes unraveled by Etta by the end of the book, although the way their relationship develops seems very sudden and without much support or explanation for how it moved that way.
Besides Nicholas and Etta, there are very few characters that get their own time in the spotlight, but who provide all too important support to the two main protagonists. Whether it Etta’s violin teacher and mentor Alice, Nicholas’ foster family in Captain Hall and Chase, or Etta’s family members in Damascus in the 1500s, there are some really incredible characters that I’d love to learn more about in subsequent books. Some characters, however, I wish would just disappear altogether, although they are just as vital, if not more, to the plot. First off, there’s Rose, Etta’s mother who pretty much messed up everything by challenging the head time traveler who will stop at nothing to destroy her and find what she has hidden from him. This man’s name is Cyrus Ironwood, and although I wish I could say he’s as evil as they come, he’s kind of… not. He’s definitely mean and rude and a horrible person, but not necessarily evil. All of his anger and bitterness arose after he became too power hungry, and it ended up getting his wife killed; ever since then, he’s been doing whatever he can to get her back, including using Etta against Rose, and using his own granddaughter as well. Sophia Ironwood, despite the fact that she despises him, is just like her grandfather: power hungry, selfish, manipulative… but also incredibly naïve. I think she is the most annoying character in the book, and that’s saying a lot when you read about Cyrus and Rose, and I hope that some if not all of them grow in subsequent books to become more tangible and respectable characters (even if they are evil).
Ultimately, this book is one of the better hyped up books I’ve read in the last few years. The book is action-packed, funny, heartwarming, dramatic, heartbreaking, and everything in between. Despite its length, it is incredibly easy to read, and each chapter and event connects from one to the next with barely a flinch. The only reason this book didn’t receive a 5 / 5 from me is because of Etta and Nicholas’ seemingly random relationship, as well as Cyrus’ failure to really cinch the title as a good villain. I can’t wait to read the next installment in the series, and fingers crossed that Bracken writes a prequel about the time traveling war that preceded these series! It is very uncommon for me to wish for spin-offs or additional books added to the series, but that is just how much I enjoy the world Bracken has created.