The short: 3.5/5 ✦. An very well-told time-travel novel, though marred by predictable romance.
As Bracken herself said, this book is very different than The Darkest Minds series. Which is good! Sure, there’s still that element of fantasy — these people can travel through time! — but . . . lighter than TDM, less doom and gloom, which of course works for the story.
There’s a few things I really, really liked about this novel. For starters, from the moment he was introduced, Nicholas sounded totally hot (while reading, I pictured him as a younger Leslie Odom, Jr., aka Aaron Burr of Hamilton — yes, I am trash). And so I figured that he and Etta would probably be each other’s love interests (and it was also hinted at in the blurb, and I’m grateful for the subtlety, or I might not have read this). I’ve got nothing against romance being in otherwise more adventurous stories, unless it takes over the plot, and . . . well, let me continue with the pros.
It’s interesting to compare this to the last book I read, The Conjurer’s Riddle, because in that book, I found the expository elements to be very heavy-handed, confusing, and just plain boring. Not so with Passenger. I think this is because Etta is the surrogate for the reader; she gets to ask all the questions we’re asking and we learn along with her about the world and the characters. Bracken also manages to do this skillfully, not revealing too much at once but neither withholding it to the point of frustration. Everyone involved is pretty much on the same page by the first quarter of the book, which is great, because I loathe the trope of poor communication — SO MANY THINGS would get resolved if characters talked to each other like, y’know, normal human beings. Bracken doesn’t make that mistake, and the characters still have their secrets and mysterious agendas, thus keeping up the suspense and making the plot roll along.
I also appreciated the clear respect Bracken had for the subject matter in terms of historical accuracy. Nicholas is a black man living in the height of the American Revolution, and even time traveling to more modern eras, he is always judged by the color of his skin, and Bracken doesn’t shy away from that reality. Etta is as white as white can be, and though she is a woman and similarly oppressed, it’s still a different dynamic entirely, and coming from the present day, she is constantly reminded of her privilege of not having to fight for women’s battles as hard or as often as her ancestors. Of course, it’s much more nuanced than this, and there are still imperfections with the execution, but I did like that Bracken didn’t take the easy way out and just “overlook” the difficulties that a person of color and a woman traveling through time would realistically have.
The time traveling element itself is fairly well done; it’s always difficult to explain the intricacies of such a plot device, having to create rules and boundaries and still have it all make sense. As I stated above, Bracken doesn’t overload the audience but uses dialogue, scene breaks, and character reflection to set everything up and make it understandable without bringing the narrative to a grinding halt. The second book of this duology will likely be more fast-paced because of this.
With all these good points, why the 3.5 rating? A few things, but mostly:
Now, to be fair, it didn’t bother me that much. I knew it was coming, and I sorta skimmed over the more lovey-dovey passages. But upon thinking it all over and considering how the book ends, it really kinda takes the wind out of its sails. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, it’s not that they are a bad match, it’s not even done that badly — it’s just completely unnecessary and totally predictable. Motivation for characters can come in all shapes and sizes; love is only one.
All that being said (whew!), I did quite enjoy this book — I love well-told time travel in any capacity — and I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel!
Header image: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, published January 5th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion