Book Reviews

Book review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

*minor spoilers ahead*

“Good ideas had in the dark were generally best left there.”

This novel follows Etta Spencer, a violinist with the ambition of becoming a professional musician. But on the eve of her debut, when Etta discovers she’s a traveller -someone with the ability to move through time – she is snatched from her own era and into the past. There she meets Nicholas Carter, a sailor, and the two must go in search of an artifact that may well change history around them.

I’ve seen quite a few reviews commenting on the fact that this book was ‘boring’ and ‘slow’, but I actually really enjoyed it. Yes, it was slow-paced in certain chapters, and the overall length could have been cut by about 100 pages to tighten up the plot, but the story itself, for the most part, was tense and exciting. The ‘slower’ chapters tended to be the ones with more character and emotional development, and I think these segments will always have less pace than the action scenes.

Time travel isn’t a new idea, but I found this take on it quite refreshing and well-thought out. I really liked idea that when a traveller dies, the closest passage to another era collapses, as it made the possibility of being stranded in time all the more real. The connection between music and travel was also an interesting one, and Etta’s musicality gave her an edge when searching for passages on more than one occasion.

Etta herself grew on me throughout the novel because she changed as a person. She was a little self-centred and (you could argue) one-dimensional at the beginning of the story, but by the later chapters she became someone who’d rather save history and her family than herself. I will say, however, that I never quite fell in love with her as I have done with other characters; I liked her a lot, but that was as far as it went.

“He would not surrender to the disaster of loving her.”

I did, however, enjoy the way her and Nicholas’s relationship developed, and was gunning for them to be together by the end. The portrayal of Nicholas, as an African-American character in the 18th century, was brought to life with tact and sensitivity, and set up a commentary about systematic racism throughout history, which was really important to the story.

In some ways I liked Nicholas more than Etta; he had morals and goals that stemmed from a desire to prove society wrong, rather than from a position of privilege such as Etta’s. His emotions in the last few chapters were narrated with such intensity and openness, that we really got a sense of his inner heart – something that he’d tried to deny for most of the novel.

This novel really played between the lines of magic and realism because the historical settings were described in such vivid detail that it could have been a historical romance, but the time-travel elements were constructed with boldness and intricacy that you could never quite leave the fantasy genre behind.

Overall, this was a fun adventure into the present, past and even deeper past, and it ended on such a cliffhanger that I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out.


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