Book Reviews

Review: “Passenger,” Alexandra Bracken

February 9, 2016

I received this book for free from Harper Collins Australia in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: “Passenger,” Alexandra BrackenPassengerby Alexandra Bracken
Series: Passenger #1
Published by HarperCollins on January, 2016
Genres: Historical, Time Travel
Pages: 486
Source: Harper Collins Australia
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

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

Passenger is an extremely hard book for me to rate. The half of the book didn’t really do anything for me… the second, however, was a frantic page-turning adventure. Alexandra Bracken’s lush descriptions are back, and while these certainly help to flesh out the vast world of Passenger, sometimes they were a little too much.

“This was the danger, the seduction of time travel, she realized—it was the opportunity, the freedom of a thousand possibilities of where to live and how to start over. It was the beauty open to you in your life if you only stopped for a moment to look.”

I LOVED The Darkest Minds, but was disappointed with its sequel. I would say that I’m a fan of Alexandra Brackens, however, so as soon as I read the description and saw the cover for Passenger, I knew it would be a book I had to have on my shelves.

Passenger is a historical time-travelling adventure with 17-year-old Etta Spencer at the helm. Completely unawares she comes from a family of time travellers, Etta must try and learn what those around her have been doing all their life – fitting in to new time periods and navigating the ‘passages’, all the while answering to the tyrant Cyrus Ironwood, Grand Master of travellers. Etta has to decide whether she’s ready to step up to the plate after learning that her mother has been secretly setting her up since her birth.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Etta as our heroine. While quite often it got annoying listening to how she likened everything to the symphonies she knew so well (Etta is a violinist), she made calculated decisions and never became too trusting of those around her. I really enjoyed her relationship with her instructor, Alice, and the blossoming relationship between her and Nicholas, a young traveller from the 18th Century.

“Nicholas felt a rueful smile spread across his face. And a curse be on him for it, because now he knew her. She’d shown him her mind, and she’d opened up her heart, and now he knew the taste of her tears. And he was wrecked.”

I liked Nicholas, too. Everyone has commented on the fact that Passenger has a mixed-race main couple, but rather than that I just enjoyed Etta and Nicholas’ dynamic. While sometimes the relationship felt a bit too forced (oh, look, a pretty girl on my ship!) by the end of the book it felt quite genuine and I was happy with how it progressed. Nicholas was an intriguing, complex character and although I was initially grumpy we had to share POV chapters with him, I soon didn’t mind in the slightest. Etta and Nicholas’ view of the worlds they travelled in where quite different, and it certainly added a different element to their chapters.

My main irk with Passenger was that it was just so damned SLOW to begin with. For the first quarter to half, I was having a hard time picking it up whenever I’d finish a chapter. It just wasn’t engaging enough for me and I felt as trapped on that damned ship as Etta was. The descriptions were bogging everything down and I found I couldn’t care less how stiff Etta’s dress was, or how the sea churned. It was at that time I was seriously believing I was going to be giving this book a two-star rating or lower.

Then, something amazing happened as soon as Etta landed in WWII-era London. THE BOOK GOT AMAZING.

“She’d known instinctively that they’d been building toward something, and she was only glad it had been the same ‘something’ she wanted. And maybe she was a pirate after all, because she would fight like hell before ever voluntarily surrendering the treasure she’d already found.”

From there on out, the book was a quick-paced time-hopping adventure spanning different eras and different cultures. I was able to read without stopping, soaking up every bit of information as Nicholas and Etta continued on their quest to find the Astrolabe. The descriptions weren’t sluggish, they coloured everything in! By the end of it, I was absolutely gobsmacked at how much of a 360-turnaround Passenger had made, and wished and wished I could forget the first half of the book and give it a higher rating. I wanted the next book, and I wanted it NOW.

There are plenty twists and turns regarding Etta and her heritage, along with a fair sprinkle of betrayals and surprises when it comes to secondary characters such as Alice and Sophia. Come time for Wayfarer, Etta is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding her mother, Rose Linden, and what she feels for Nicholas. Passenger set up some really awesome stuff for the next book, too – the resurgence of a character thought dead, more on the ‘wrinkles’ of time as well as the war between the Thorns and Ironwoods.

I absolutely cannot wait to pick up Wayferer. I just hope I don’t forget everything that happened in this monster of a book before then – I’m not sure if I could sit through that beginning again.

About Alexandra Bracken

Alexandra Bracken wrote her first novel, 'Brightly Woven' as a birthday present for a friend, and the story grew and flourished during a year of unpredictable, wild weather. A native of Arizona, she is a recent graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she majored in History and English. She now lives in New York City.


  • Reply Kristin @ Simply Bookish Things February 10, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    I can’t wait to read this book, I haven’t read enough historical fiction books so I’m extremely excited to read this as it also has the twist of time-travel! EEP. Lovely review :)
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