Passenger by Alexandra Bracken is a young adult fantasy novel, the first in a duology, marketed as a treasure hunt through time. It focusses on the characters of Etta, a young 21st century woman and Nicholas, a black man from the 1700s, both of whom have the genetic ability to travel through passages in time and space. They embark on a journey through time to locate the astrolabe, the series McGuffin, in order to prevent its falling into the hands of the Ironwoods giving them power to change history.
What I liked
The time travel system. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. It was very well thought out and the rules and limitations were well explained. Often in fantasy it’s the limitations on magical powers that make them most interesting and generate the most interesting stories. At the risk of spoiling the novel I won’t say too much more, but this aspect was very well done.
The character development. Writing believable and consistent characters is one of Bracken’s strengths. I could easily believe the characters actions and reactions based on what they’d already experienced.
The social commentary. Having two characters whose race or gender has historically deprived them of power and placing them in situations where that is emphasised was inspired. It leads to some scenes that are both funny and poignant.
The writing and the pacing. This was excellent – the story kept moving along at a brisk pace with the tension managed expertly. It’s amazing what a deadline can do for plot pacing! Of course, I hadn’t expected anything less from the writer of The Darkest Minds series.
What I didn’t like
The romance. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the relationship between Etta and Nicholas. What irritated me though was the fact that they allowed it to overshadow everything else. They were on a very tight deadline and yet they still took a lot of time out to enjoy each other’s company. Focus, people!
Bland characters. I will say I enjoyed the situations in which the characters found themselves more than the characters themselves. Yes, they did have a few moments of awesome, and yes, their character development was realistic, but I wasn’t particularly engaged by them.
All in all I really enjoyed this book and gave it four out of five stars. I look forward to Wayfarer, the conclusion of the story.
As an aside, if you enjoyed Passenger, I would strongly recommend you check out Kerstin Geir’s Ruby Red trilogy. This explores a very similar premise of time travel, but the heroine is much more fun and sassy than Etta.