This was one of the few books being released this year that I was absolutely excited for! It had time travel and pirates. I envisioned it as Doctor Who meets Treasure Island. What more could I ask for? So, I had high hopes for Passenger. In some instances, it met my expectations. I loved (most of) the characters; I loved the world-building and the rules of time travel and I liked the main plot. But I was slightly underwhelmed by the end of the story.
Passenger tells the story of Etta Spencer, a promising violinist from the 21st century. After a devastating evening performance, Etta is thrown from her time and finds herself abroad a ship in the 18th century. There she meets Nicholas Carter, a free slave/privateer, who works with the powerful and dangerous Ironwood family. After meeting with Cyrus Ironwood, the patriarch of the family, Etta and Nicholas must travel to different places and times to find an astrolabe that is rumored to create time portals. During their journey, the pair discover more about themselves and the history of the time travelers, and eventually they must come to a decision that may very well destroy various timeline.
Let’s talk about the characters, because as you probably know, I love stories that have well-written and lifelike characters. Etta is one of the main characters, but she’s also one of the least interesting people in the book. This story is littered with strong females, like Sophia Ironwood, the granddaughter of Cyrus, and Rose Linden, Etta’s own mother. Both Rose and Sophia are women who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Sophia, in particular, is a heart breaking character. She’s ambitious and goal-oriented, but because of the time period, her opinions are rarely given any weight. She can be snide and cruel, especially when we’re first introduced to her, but there are moments where she reveals her inner heart. And in those moments, you learn that all Sophia really wants is to be taken seriously:
“My father was no one in the family,” Sophia said, raking a hand through the ends of her hair. “A distant cousin of Grandfather’s who forced himself on some unsuspecting harlot and came back for seconds, only to find the woman dead and me all alone. He drank himself to death a few years later, and only Grandfather was willing to raise me. Said he couldn’t allow a true traveler to slip through the cracks. Most people only have one shadow, but I feel as though I have two. My past trails me every day, every second, and I can’t shake it off. Marrying Julian might have finally stopped the whispers from the other travelers. It might have finally earned me a measure of respect.”
I actually had a difficult time choosing a quote because in this part of the book, Sophia says so many things that tugs at the heart And while she’s set up to be a side villain, I really hope that she eventually finds redemption and gains the respect she both wants and deserves.
The story unfolds very, very slowly in the beginning. In fact, the main plot isn’t revealed until about page 180 or so. The first 150 pages are spent introducing the characters and talking about the rules of time travel and the history of the Ironwood family. At some points, it felt like a chore getting through it. But, I’m hoping that by front-loading all of this information, Alexandra Bracken, can focus more on the action and the romance in the rest of the series.
Since I mentioned it, I’ll talk about the romance in here for a bit. I didn’t like it. Not because I’m generally adverse to romance in YA stories, but because it was distracting and felt out of place. I like the idea of Etta and Nicholas falling in love and finding a happy ending eventually. But, Cyrus gave them a mission with a strict deadline (8 days) and clear consequences if they failed (he would have Rose killed). The only way they could uncover the location of the astrolabe was by deciphering a letter Rose wrote to Etta. All of those elements would surely add up to a tense and suspenseful tale. And at times it was indeed tense, since Etta had trouble understanding the different clues. So it didn’t really feel natural for there to be a chapter where Etta and Nicholas spend time in the jungle i.e. make out in the jungle while time slips away. And I understand that stress often pushes people together and makes them realize their true feelings for one another. But there were moments when it seemed like Etta had mostly forgotten about her mission and forgotten about her mother’s safety and thought about Nicholas and how she wanted to kiss him and be with him romantically. Again, I’m not opposed to Etta and Nicholas ending up together. In fact, I really want them to become a couple. But the making out and the lovey-dovey conversations should not have happened as often as they did in this story.
This is a promising start to what I’m sure will be an amazing, heart-pounding, ugly cry inducing series. The first book has it’s faults, though none are so bad that you’ll want to put the book down permanently. Passengers starts slowly and introduces a lot of terms and history in the first hundred pages. Hopefully, now that it is (mostly) out of the way, Bracken can really hone in on the characters and their motivations. She definitely has a good cast of complicated people in here and I’m sure as the tale continues they will all grow and flourish. Passengers is definitely a book worth checking out this year!