Author: Alexandra Bracken
Release: January 5th 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Time Travel, Historical, YA
#1 in the Passenger duology
Sequel: Wayfarer (#2)
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
You know, I think maybe I ruined this novel for myself, maybe it is entirely my fault for setting my expectations too high. But I was so sure I would love this book to death, and I didn't, and I don't even know where to begin with listing all of its faults and mistakes.
For one, the exposition is just way too fucking long. The synopsis promises me a journey across time and space to find a mysterious object, but this journey doesn't start until 50% in. Yep, you heard me — the real plot starts at about 50% in. Half of this novel is just blundering about, an irrelevant prologue to the actual story. Seriously?
And the plot is step-by-step stumbling upon something of significance by sheer dumb luck, or because someone very conveniently remembers a fun fact. Of course. Not to mention that the whole premise is ludicrous, because why would a mother let her daughter go on a dangerous time travel journey without ANY help or real preparation? Because it's way easier to just leave clues about the astrolabe's location Etta's whole life, never tell her that she has time traveling abilities or tell her anything about the rules that go with it? Are you fucking kidding me? GOD.
And, you know, the journey itself was kind of interesting, the settings were nice and everything, but by the time they ever set out to find this damned thing, I had already lost interest and just wanted to be done with this, and thus couldn't even appreciate the actual relevant plot.
But the absolute worst thing about this novel is the relationship between Etta and Nicholas, to be honest. It is insta-love of the most insidious, deceiving kind, because it's not presented as such. They don't kiss up until ~60%, but they make googly-eyes at each other the whole time prior to that, Etta constantly manages to trip, stumble or stagger only to conveniently fall into Nicholas' arms each time, and one day of them knowing each other, one day, we get this gem:
“He said he'd never remarry, because he'd never find another lady that fit so neatly at his side. He called her his equal in spirit.” (...)
“She's not for me.”
“I think she is,” Chase insisted. “Yet you can't see it.”
Sure, of course. The guy who barely gets any screen time but is apparently Nicholas' best friend bro, sees that him and Etta are soulmates after 24 hours.
But, worse than that, they actually do develop feelings for each other (who would've guessed!) even though I really can't fathom why, except for the fact that here we have two horny teenagers thrust into an adrenaline filled adventure. Which, they say that you might mistake adrenaline for the rush of affection and falling in love, so if you want to land that person you're crushing on, consider taking them on a rollercoaster ride — literally. Bungee jumping should also do the trick. But seriously, their journey lasts exactly eight days, eight days in which they had the chance to get to know each other semi well (I have excluded the 12 day journey from Nassau to NYC because, as stated somewhere in the book, beyond that first day, Etta and Nicholas hadn't spoken more than four words during the entire voyage). If they ever sat down in between running from the villains to talk about anything of value that might give them a good enough impression of each other, I must have missed that. And yet:
“Think about this, Etta. You scarcely know me—”
“I know you,” she interrupted. “I know you, Nicholas Carter.”
<spoiler>And then, on top of that, to make it yet even worse, they have unprotected sex somewhere in 16th century Syria. Isn't anything sacred anymore?! Also, are we to assume that Etta is a virgin, seeing as she had only dated Pierce before in her life, and that relationship seemed to have been but a shell of a real one since all Etta was focused on was her violin? Because if Etta IS indeed a virgin, I am not buying that she enjoyed it that much. No way.</spoiler>
Furthermore, the writing was just way too convoluted. For one, the third person narrative felt very detached and distant from the characters and plot, actively putting on a barrier between me as the reader and the events of the novel, but also serving to completely throw me off by having the narrator know every correct nomenclature of 16th century Syrian clothing, which, sorry but who cares? How is that necessary information and important for the plot? Which actually brings me to my next point: The useless, endless info dumps and stretching everything into infinity. I've already said that the exposition is way too long, and that is because Bracken takes the time to explain and fold out everything in excruciating detail. I mean it, everything. It's nice at first, because it creates a very vivid setting and atmosphere, but there is a fine line for authors to toe around, between giving away too little and going on distracting tangents at every turn. Unfortunately, Bracken didn't manage very well.
The final nail in the coffin are the characters themselves. It seemed like the author couldn't make up her mind about how to characterize her heroine, because in the first few chapters, we are led to believe that Etta is a timid, shy girl who is socially awkward because she has lost contact with her sole friend and her only company in life are her mother, her violin instructor and her violin. She has suffered from incredible stage fright, is desperate for any sign of her mother's love and absolutely reliant on her instructor to care for her. Then, as soon as she is cast into the unknown and basically kidnapped by total strangers, I am supposed to believe that Etta would stand her ground without peeing herself in fear, instead resorting to threatening said kidnappers with a grappling hook? That seems a little contradictory. Despite that, I liked Etta at first, but after a short while, her constant moon eyes at Nicholas as well as her flat out refusal to ever do what is best to preserve her life and her mother's, constantly charging head-first into danger, made her very unlikable to me.
Nicholas was a compelling character at first, as an African-American born into slavery and now trying to make a living for himself and prove his worth as a human being, but he, too, suffered from a fate I do not wish on anybody: Falling for a reckless idiot and losing his entire sense of self in the process; his internal struggle of “I want to be with Etta, I love her so much! No, I couldn't possibly, it's not allowed!” really annoyed the shit out of me after about the third time it occurred. He is sure about what he wants to do with his future, which would be buying his own ship and sailin' the seas in his era, but Etta can crush these dreams of his by simply existing and make him wish for a future with her instead, no matter what it takes or what he may have to give up for it.
My last and final complaint about this novel is the time travel concept itself that is presented here, because it really doesn't make any sense. They say it is possible to change the future by going back and changing things in the past, but then again, things that have happened — and have been changed — in the past, have already happened in the future and thus, would have already impacted it in whatever way? If that didn't make any sense to you, then that's because this concept is so contradictory in and of itself, I can't believe she got away with it. There's so many holes in that theory of time travel, because if, say, a traveler from 2010 visiting someone, a grandparent for example, in 1940, then that grandparent would remember the encounter up until 2010, so before the traveler has even been born. And if things that are going to be done by travelers going into the past, have already happened in the present, then, following that logic, there should be no way to change the past, because any changes made would have already happened and allowed for the current past to come about. You know? If changes made are already accounted for in the present, then it won't matter what sort of changes you make, they will already have been accounted for anyway. It feels as if Bracken just twisted this to suit her own needs however she wanted it.
Alas, I am very, very disappointed. It seems almost everyone else, at least, was able to enjoy it as much as I'd hoped I would, so at least there's that.