Series: Passenger #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
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.
Though Passenger has a mixed-race romance and ancient, exotic settings to offer, the plot and pace were no match for the epic premise. A wonderfully imagined fantasy but its execution was rather lacking. This was only my second audiobook as I’m extremely picky with narrator voices but Saskia Maarleveld did a brilliant job at breathing life into this story and creating distinct characters.
Told from two POVs, the storyline follows Etta Spencer and Nicholas Carter on their search for a lost artefact, jumping through passages of time to other centuries and faraway continents – to WWII London, ancient Angkor Wat, revolutionary Paris, and historical Damascus – on a run against time.
Time travel has ruined many sci-fi/fantasy books for me, as the logic of the system often leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, Passenger was no different. Although the time travel was somewhat more enjoyable as a fantasy element, the puzzle pieces didn’t always fit together. Past selves seemed to know that future travellers would come back to the past, but wouldn’t that make time… an endless loop? (I can’t even wrap my mind around this, tbh). Sadly, the pacing of the storyline didn’t match the excitement of adrenaline-flaring time travel I felt the premise promised, either. The downside to the steady pace of this book, never breaking loose like a rollercoaster, is that it reads like someone put a break on a Ferrari. Once Nicholas says, “Let’s make a slow and careful approach to this.”, and I just thought: On point. Even the climax was a snoozefest, I swear.
I’ve read Bracken’s debut series The Darkest Minds. While her research has always been decent, her writing has come a long way since those Dystopian beginnings. Although I still cannot count her writing style to my favourites, I’ll give credit where credit is due. The prose has developed in a fashion fitting for a fantasy, neither overly flowery nor too simplistic. Some people struggled with the passages of description, and I thought: “How does one expect for an author to set a scene without them?” And then, I accidently pressed mute instead of pause on the audiobook, and when I realized my mistake, I was able to continue with the story without feeling I had missed valuable information. So, there you have it. In addition, Etta’s inner monologues were a source of constant nuisance, but then again, why would I want to listen to the babble of a character I don’t really like, am I right?
So, my dislike for Etta had me rather torn between an engaging male – who is African American, an aspect I much appreciated – and a bland female lead. I enjoyed listening to Nicholas’ POV, his struggles with racism and his wavering loyalty. Nicholas is on a quest for freedom and recognition, and he’s thirsty for knowledge beyond his own natural time, the 18th century.
“I want to know. I want to seek. I want to find.”
Etta, on the other hand, could go from bland to foolish to head-against-the-wall ignorant. For example, she was surprised that there hadn’t been a barrier between her and a tiger in the middle of the damn Cambodian jungle. Yes, Etta, wild animals in the wild are, you know, WILD. (FYI: Apparently, there used to be tigers in Cambodia but they have gone extinct around 2007 due to illegal poaching. Yay for humans, ugh). And then she somehow manages to still think about her violin debut, in the middle of the jungle in an ancient century, with bad guys on her heels and her loved ones’ lives on the line. Give me a fucking break. In short, I couldn’t connect with her at all.
The romance bordered on insta-love in the beginning. I’ve seen other reviewers discredit this romance as a full-on insta-love and I cannot blame them. Faced with these unconvincing lovebirds, I could already feel a massive eye-roll coming, but my annoyance was dampened when Bracken took her time to develop the bond between Etta and Nicholas throughout the story. But the initial encounter still left a bad taste in my mouth. Further, the mixed-race romance left room to highlight some of the racism Nicholas faced as a dark-skinned character, but the disparities between the two of them as a couple weren’t fully explored.
Without the element of time travelling, I think Passenger would best compare to a girl-sucked-into-organized-crime kind of story. The empire the Ironwoods built up as well as the rivalry between the traveller families reminded me a lot of the mafia.
And last but not least: Let’s marvel a bit at the pretty, enchanting cover, shall we?
A slow start to a series that has yet to deliver the full potential of its premise. I expected a fast-paced, action-packed fantasy but it is neither of those things. The flaws put aside, Passenger‘s strong points are the male lead and the diverse spectrum of sceneries Etta’s time travels take the reader to.
Also, it made me inexplicably sad that this book featured the ancient ruins of Palmyra, a World Heritage site heavily damaged when ISIS swept across the northeast of Syria.
Full credits to the fanart go to meabhdeloughry over at deviantart.com.