I lost my Alexandra Bracken v-card not with the Darkest Minds trilogy (as I’d planned) but with Passenger. Maybe I should have saved myself.
Let me tell you how I really feel about Passenger by Alexandra Bracken:
A book about time travel that uses historical references to world build is tantalizing. It seems like a circumstance where the settings offer conflicts for the characters. It seems to have a lot of promise — a wealth of difficulties to make the story interesting while feeding the plot and creating a richer universe.
I hoped that a young adult title with time travel as a driver would be a lush adventure that samples the flavours of the world from it’s various eras; that as a female traveller arriving in a time period where women did not have the same rights today, the difficulties presented to a character would be near-insurmountable, and their courage, cunning, and cleverness would deliver them to the upper echelons where other kickass female protagonists reside. (See The Dark Days Club by Allison Goodman, for example.) They wouldn’t be at the whims of the supporting characters to save them, right? They’d be so badass you could hardly stand it.
I wanted a top-tier protagonist — the self-reliant, ballsy, use-what-you-got kinda gal to get through. I wanted adventure. I wanted danger at every turn.
What I got with Passenger was a contrived love story that glazed over the feminist dialogue, and resolved itself into a discussion about interracial dating; largely belonging to a different era altogether because they weren’t the concerns of the female lead, but her love interest. Etta never fully galvanizes into the heroine we want her to be, though she has the potential in-built into her personality type. Her focus strays from her objective into moony contemplation of Nicholas, and yeah, he’s hot, but camaaaaaaaaaaan. Girl, you’ve got a mission that’s bigger than yourself. Remember Katniss? Hell, remember Clary Fray? If Clary Fray can kick your ass as a strong female protagonist, you’ve got a problem, missy.
It’s two different discussions happening here: both are important, but I think the focus fell on the wrong things to sell a book that had a lot of potential in a different genre altogether for the character selected to tell her story.
Sad. Passenger took me a month to finish altogether, and it was a struggle to do so because of a saggy middle: a dragging plot, an overwrought will-they-or-won’t-they scenario I just couldn’t care about, and a dimmed historical backdrop whose mechanics weren’t fully baked nor believable. (Let me be explicit: I eat books that are longer in a quarter of the time when I’m engaged with the story.)
Also! You know the tricky thing about the monomyth? (This really gets me going.) Sometimes the structural framework for the hero’s journey can be a tricky thing to hide. We know it’s there, but some stories do a better job of convincing us that’s it’s not following the classic storytelling structure. Maybe if the plot device wasn’t as obvious as it was, I’d refrain from rolling my eyes so much, but since it didn’t push the story forwards as efficiently as it could have, I still can still see the story’s bones.
Not tight. Not clean. Kinda clunky. Kinda obvious. Kinda messy with multiple unused avenues that weren’t fully developed or explored.
Surprise twist? Etta is a violin virtuoso and never has the opportunity to play once after her debut’s flop at the beginning. (I’m being facetious: by the point I actually got to the real surprise twist — which I won’t spoil for you — I was awfully frustrated about the whole experience.
On the bright side, the twist was pretty damn good. The ending was pretty damn good. The beginning was pretty good too in fact: engaging, interesting, different altogether — and then there’s the saggy middle that I found supremely frustrating. As a supporting character, Nicholas is super interesting too, which actually has me sort of excited for the second book, Wayfarer. Yes, I will likely read it. Just know this: I won’t be reading it for Etta. (Boo, Etta!)
On the pro side: it’s written reasonably well, the characters are believable, interesting, and if I was still writing fan fiction, I’d totally want to play with the characters in this universe. It’s not a horrible book by any means, but it didn’t meet the hype.
Passenger by Alexandra BrackenPassenger (Passenger, #1) by Alexandra Bracken
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 5th 2016
Source: Indigo Books
Check it out: Goodreads
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.
Alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here