The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Book review: ‘Passenger’ by Alexandra Bracken

on February 28, 2016

Alexandra-Bracken-PassengerPassenger. Alexandra Bracken. Disney-Hyperion. January 2016.

In one devastating night, 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 travelled not just miles but years from home.

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 he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveller who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to their target, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.


I have to admit that my reasons for buying Passenger in the first place were A) the gorgeous cover and B) the crazy social media hype surrounding the book. Whilst it didn’t entirely live up to the hype (in my opinion) I still really enjoyed the book, and I definitely want to read the sequel (because, CLIFFHANGER ALERT!)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Passenger, and I read the book when I was exhausted, so this may not be as detailed as the reviews I usually post, but I’ll do my best. I won’t recap the plot, because the blurb is pretty explanatory for this one, but I will say straight away that this is a beautifully written book. I want to re-read it when I’m less tired and drink in all of the details properly, because it’s one of those books which invokes all 5 senses and makes you feel like you’re living it all alongside the characters.

The main thing preventing me from rating this book 5 stars was the pacing. Passenger is a slow-starter, and the real adventure doesn’t kick off until about 200 pages in. As so many pages were taken up with scene setting and exposition, I felt the adventure itself happened rather speedily in the end, and I’d have appreciated getting to spend more time in each of the places Etta and Nicholas pass through in their search (across time) for the Astrolabe (the stolen object of untold value mentioned in the blurb – I won’t explain what it actually is/does, because, SPOILERS!).

As I mentioned previously, there’s a fair bit of exposition in this novel, especially surrounding the concept of time travel. I understood the necessity of explaining how it works, but I felt like I could have figured most of the other stuff out for myself if I had been shown rather than told. Nevertheless, I thought this novel offered an interesting take on time-travel, particularly as the time-travel within Passenger has so many limitations. Travel is only possible through gates that already exist, rather than at the will of the traveller, so even if you are gifted with the ability to travel, it isn’t possible to go anywhere you want, and mess with history as you please – it doesn’t make you as powerful as you might think. These limitations are especially hard for Etta and Nicholas, as both have lost people they loved and would give anything to go back and save them.

Despite the pacing issues, I gave this book 4 stars because the romance in this novel was totally swoonworthy and completely captivated me. Sometimes I feel like romantic subplots are unnecessary, but for me, Etta and Nicholas’s slow-burn romance carried the novel, and was the plot thread I was turning the pages rapidly for. Etta and Nicholas’s relationship was a touchy-feely one from the start, and they seemed to always find themselves absent-mindedly touching each other’s hair, or faces, but it took a long time for them to acknowledge their feelings for each other and properly act on them, so the tension was drawn out and unbearably good. This one will make your heart beat faster, trust me.

One of the most interesting aspects of Passenger was seeing the way places and attitudes are changed by the passing of time. Etta’s journey begins when a traveller named Sophia Ironwood pushes her through a gate, stealing her away from the most important violin recital of her life in 2016, and depositing her on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic… in 1776. Of course, things were very different for women back in 1776, and it was interesting to see how Etta was forced to modify her behaviour so as not to raise suspicion by acting like the modern woman she is.

Etta is naturally frustrated by this, but what was even more interesting to see was that Sophia Ironwood, used to living in a time period where women have no rights, is clearly just as frustrated and realises that things need to change. I loved the scene where Etta and Sophie have agreed to take it in turns to answer each other’s questions, and the very first thing Sophia thinks to ask Etta is what year women will eventually achieve the right to vote. Although Sophia was an unlikeable character on the whole, I respected her from this scene onwards, even when I didn’t like her.

As well as changing attitudes to women, this novel also explores racism throughout history. Nicholas is African American, and his mother was a slave. It was heartbreaking to see Nicholas hardly daring to wonder what life in 2016 might be like for somebody like him… he’s too scared to ask Etta, because it’s so hard for him to believe attitudes have changed that much. Etta is naturally disgusted when she witnesses how Nicholas is treated by white men in 1776, and I loved that she couldn’t hold herself back from standing up for him (there may have been some slapping…!), but what I loved even more was the way Nicholas handled himself and the people who tried to undermine him… he succeeded in undermining them simply by leading them to expose their own ignorance.

One of my favourite scenes is where an odious man named Wren is asking snide questions (after openly speaking in defence of slavery) about Nicholas’s parentage. Nicholas’s response? “I suppose we are all born with deficits. In your case, in manners.” Wren goes on to use a Voltaire quote to back up his arguments about the differences between races, and Nicholas totally dismantles him by reciting the correct quote Wren’s unwittingly got completely wrong.

Passenger took me all over the world (America, England, France, Bhutan, Cambodia…) , as well as on a journey through time, and the most interesting part of the story for me was the section that takes place in Syria in 1599. The descriptions of Damascus were so vivid, and there was something incredibly moving about reading about the grandeur of the city in 1599, given the horror of Syria’s current situation, which Alexandra Bracken touched upon in this part of the story. This passage brought tears to my eyes:

“In her era, Syria was in the middle of a civil war, one so destructive and burdened with death and despair that millions of refugees have been forced to flee from it. Even Damascus has not been spared. But it was comforting, in a way she hadn’t expected, to understand that the city had stood in one form or another for thousands of years. It had passed through the hands of any number of masters, had faced bloody revolts and subjugations – and it had survived.”

Overall, I loved Passenger – despite the slow pace, the writing was gorgeous, and the novel explored some important themes, which engaged me perhaps even more so than the adventure plot itself. The novel ends with a huge cliff-hanger, and I can’t wait to see how the next book plays out, especially now the world and its limits have been fully established.

Have you read this book? What was your favourite thing about Passenger? Did you feel it lived up to the hype?

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10 responses to “Book review: ‘Passenger’ by Alexandra Bracken

  1. I have to agree with the GORGEOUS cover! I think this is a wonderful book. Would definitely land on my TBR! Great review.

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! Definitely, it was a total cover buy for me, but I really enjoyed the book too thankfully! Hope you love it too if you decide to read, and look forward to your review if you do 🙂

  2. I have Passenger on my TBR but I haven’t read it yet because of the hype. I’m afraid of being disappointed. And you say it has a cliffhanger.. Ugh.. I’m less likely to read this book soon now.

    • mudandstars says:

      I really loved it, but I’d say that if you want to read it, just forget about the hype and everything you’ve read about it, and just read it as if you don’t know anything about it. You’ll enjoy it a lot more that way. The cliffhanger was annoying, but it DID make me want to read the next book, and it wasn’t totally unbearable (I get the sense that everything will be okay in the end, if you see what I mean). I hope you do enjoy it if you decide to pick it up in the end 🙂

  3. fictional_living says:

    Hey! I tagged you in the I Messed Up book tag on my blog! If you do it, let me know so I can read your answers!
    http://fictionalliving.com/2016/02/29/i-messed-up-book-tag/

  4. Great review Jess! I finished Passenger yesterday. Expect my review to be up later today 🙂

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