In present-day New York City, 17-year-old violinist Etta Spencer is on the verge of making her solo debut when she’s thrown from her world and wakes up on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic. After she realizes that the strangers around her aren’t simply wearing Masterpiece Theatre costumes, she learns that she’s been transported to 1776, an act made possible by an inherited ability to move through “passages.” Cyrus Ironwood, the head of a dangerous and all-powerful family of the secret traveling world, has brought Etta to the past so she can retrieve an astrolabe, a passage device her mother had hidden from him. Using clues her mom left, Etta embarks on a quest to find it and keep it out of Ironwood’s hands. She’s joined by Nicholas Carter, a young 18th century African-American privateer who’s become entangled in the Ironwoods’ schemes and sees this as an opportunity to free himself from their control.
Together, the pair travel to places like World War II London and Damascus in 1599, eras and locales full of rich history and majestic sights. Unfortunately, it often feels like they’re making quick pit stops, resulting in a dragging pace and too little action. At least the story provides sufficient time to develop the connection between Etta and Nicholas. Writing their relationship, Bracken addresses the typical 18th century standards of propriety that cause Nicholas to hold back his feelings, but more interestingly, also explores his internal struggles and doubts over the color of his skin.
Passenger has all the makings for a sweeping, immersive epic, but falls slightly short. The settings could be more vivid, the time travel explanations clearer, but the deepening romance between Etta and Nicholas is enough to keep you reading until the end, where the cliffhanger promises another more perilous journey. B