January Book Review: Wayfarer

Wayfarer (Passenger #2)
By: Alexandra Bracken
Release Date: January 3, 2017


*Beware: Spoilers Ahead!*


Official Synopsis:

I’ve been orphaned by my time.  The timeline has changed.  My future is gone.

Etta Spencer didn’t know she was a traveler until the day she emerged both miles and years from her home.  Now, robbed of the powerful object that was her only hope of saving her mother, Etta finds herself stranded once more, cut off from Nicholas—the eighteenth-century privateer she loves—and her natural time.

When Etta inadvertently stumbles into the heart of the Thorns, the renegade travelers who stole the astrolabe from her, she vows to finish what she started and destroy the astrolabe once and for all.  Instead, she’s blindsided by a bombshell revelation from their leader, Henry Hemlock: he is her father.  Suddenly questioning everything she’s been fighting for, Etta must choose a path—one that could transform her future.

Still devastated by Etta’s disappearance, Nicholas has enlisted the unlikely help of Sophia Ironwood and a cheeky mercenary-for-hire to track her down.  But after a deadly mistake derails their search, they discover an ancient power far more frightening than the rival travelers currently locked in a battle for control—a power that threatens to eradicate the timeline as they know it.

From colonial Nassau to New York City, San Francisco to ancient Carthage, imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, #1 New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Bracken charts a gorgeously detailed, thrilling course through time in this stunning conclusion to the Passenger series.

My Synopsis:

The day Etta Spencer discovered she was a traveler was the day she was thrown through a tear in time, emerging centuries before and miles away from everything she’d ever known.  Now, once again lost in time, she finds herself without the one instrument capable of saving her mother’s life and returning them home.  Even worse, she finds herself separated from Nicholas, the eighteenth-century privateer who holds her heart.

When Etta suddenly finds herself surrounded by the Thorns, the band of rebel travelers now in possession of the astrolabe, she’s determined to stick to the plan and get rid of the astrolabe permanently.  But even the best laid plans go awry, and Etta’s resolve is tested when she discovers that the leader of the Thorns, Henry Hemlock, is her father.  Suddenly, everything Etta knows is called into question, and she’s faced with a decision between doing what’s needed to save the timeline and doing what will allow her to be with the ones she loves.

Having found himself alone of the search for the astrolabe, Nicholas teams up with Sophia Ironwood, former enemy and the one responsible for Etta’s disappearance, to hunt down the powerful object.  As new secrets are uncovered and new friends are made, Nicholas’s hunt turns to finding Etta and, more importantly, to staying one step ahead of a powerful new enemy more terrifying than anything he’s faced before, one who threatens to destroy the timeline once and for all.

Etta and Nicholas’s journeys lead them across the globe and through several centuries as they work to save time and find one another.  The thrilling conclusion to the Passenger duology delivers danger, action, and romance that will leave you on the edge of your seat until the final page.

My Thoughts:

Time travel books always seem to fall into one of two categories for me: well done or wasted potential.  There are endless scenarios and storylines a time travel story can explore, yet more often than not, it seems like I love the concept but not the final outcome.

That’s when I wish I were a time traveler so that I could go back and tell myself not to waste my time on that book.

You’re probably wondering where this complaining is coming from since I gave my latest time travel read, Wayfarer, 4 out of 5 stars on my Goodreads account, so allow me to explain.  I complain only to say that the Passenger duology fell into the first category.  The time travel in these book promises a lot, and it truly delivers in terms of adventure and emotional impact.

Passenger, the first book in this duo, was the story of Etta Spencer, a young, modern-day violinist who discovered her identity as a traveler, an individual able to locate and move through passages in time and space.  This book followed Etta as she was forced into the search for an ancient astrolabe with the ability to create new passages; joining her on her quest was Nicholas Carter, a privateer and bastard of the powerful Ironwood family, who wanted nothing more than to wash his hands of time travel and return to the sea.  But of course, things weren’t that simple, and Etta and Nicholas found themselves falling in love as they raced through time, fighting to stay one step ahead of everyone else searching for the astrolabe and trying to decide if they could ever have a future together.  Passenger ended on a cliffhanger, with Etta injured and orphaned in time, Nicholas determined to find his love, and the astrolabe in the hands of the enemy.  It was a rough spot to leave everyone—characters and readers alike—but what follows made it worth the while.

Wayfarer picks up a few weeks after the ending of Passenger, with Nicholas and his new partner, Sophia, searching for the astrolabe, Rose searching for Etta, and Etta herself held captive by the Thorns as she recovers from her gunshot wound.  We are immediately flung into the chaos and danger of this new world, where former enemies must work together, secrets and lies will be uncovered, and the timeline threatens to shift at any moment, and not necessarily for the better.

My favorite thing about Wayfarer had to be the fantastic character development.  Etta and Nicholas are both forced to adapt to being apart, and it changes them in very different ways.  Etta becomes even more of a spitfire, willing to shoot first and ask questions later as she fights to figure out how to reset the timeline.  Nicholas, on the other hand, seems to revert back to internalizing everything.  He doesn’t have anyone around that he trusts enough to share his feelings with, so he pushes his emotions down, becoming more sullen and more focused on finding Etta and setting things right.  For both Etta and Nicholas, this book was a tough journey emotionally, mentally, and physically, but they had already shown that they were tough enough to handle themselves in any given situation, especially after everything they had gone through in Passenger.  Resultingly, it seemed like Wayfarer was the opportunity for others to grow and to let Etta and Nicholas act upon the development they’d already undergone.

What’s more, I think that the different reactions between Etta and Nicholas and their new situations can in part be attributed to the company they finding themselves keeping.  Their separation allows for the introduction of a number of new characters as well as the promotion of sorts for Sophia Ironwood to a more primary character.

I was quite excited to meet Julian Ironwood.  I had taken Nicholas’s description of his half-brother with a grain of salt as there was a bit of bad blood between the two, but no, Julian was exactly the flighty, flirty coward that Nicholas made him out to be.  I have to admit, though, that I really liked Julian— especially his tangents and his ridiculous bragging—and I loved that Etta was forced to team up with him.  It says a lot about Etta’s self-restraint that she doesn’t simply steal his journal and dump him somewhere.  It also says a lot about her optimism and her faith in Nicholas that she keeps trying to find a spark of goodness in Julian.  Surprisingly, it’s Julian himself that eventually finds that spark, and from that point on, although he’s still flighty and flirty, he’s all-in for helping Etta, stopping his grandfather, and fixing the timeline.  I liked this changed in Julian, and I was glad to see him become less of a jester-type character and more of a true partner by the end.

Another new character that is dedicated to fixing the timeline from the start is Henry Hemlock, the leader of the Thorns and Etta’s father.  I loved the relationship that grew between Etta and Henry.  Rose certainly had never acted like a mother to Etta, leaving Alice as her only family growing up.  After meeting Henry, I was so sad for Etta that she had never gotten to meet her father.  Henry is everything Rose is not: open, friendly, caring, and determined without being ruthless.  He wants to take care of his daughter, but he also wants to help her in whatever decisions she chooses to make.  And, like Etta, he’s musical; the scene of Henry and Etta playing for the tsar warmed my heart, and it showed just how alike father and daughter were.  I also appreciated that Henry knew the reality of sacrifice and the need to save the many at the cost of the few.  Henry isn’t perfect, but he is trying to right all the wrongs Cyrus Ironwood has inflicted all across time, even if that means losing the people he loves.

Looking at Julian and Henry, it seems like Etta got perhaps the more frustrating but better end of the bargain in terms of new partners.  And by better, I really just mean safer, because at least those two aren’t threatening or actually trying to kill Etta.  Nicholas isn’t quite so lucky in that regard, but he does get lucky in terms of ending up with a new set of fierce and fearsome females to work with.

Although Sophia was featured somewhat in Passenger, she was really only present at the beginning, where she was responsible for getting Etta through the passage, and at the end, where she showed up as a surprise villain before being beaten, robbed, and left for dead.  She wasn’t a likeable person—she was bossy, threatening, and racist—but she was always unashamedly herself, and it was impossible not to feel for her as yet another person hurt by and forced to do the bidding of Cyrus Ironwood.  Now that she’s split with the Ironwood family, Sophia initially seems to have taken a turn for the worse.  She deals with her new reality, both as a woman on the run and as a woman missing an eye, by drinking, and her alcohol-fueled temper makes things worse for Nicholas and herself before she really starts to be helpful.  But Sophia isn’t the type to stay down for long when revenge is at hand, and soon she’s racing through time alongside Nicholas.

Even if Sophia had no other redeeming qualities, her never-back-down attitude would’ve made me like her.  Yes, her mouth consistently gets her in trouble, but she has the fighting skills to keep herself safe.  Seriously, I loved seeing Sophia’s ferociousness and skill in her fights, and Nicholas easily owes her his life many times over.  At first, she only saves Nicholas because she needs him as a partner, but eventually she’s saving him because she cares about him.  Nicholas’s true nature manages to extinguish Sophia’s prejudice against him, and the two become friends.  It’s still a rocky relationship, with lots of threats and violence, but that’s really just Sophia’s way of showing she cares.  I was glad to get to know Sophia better and to see her out from under Ironwood’s thumb where she could allow herself to be a bit more vulnerable and where she could find the respect she’d always wanted.

Of course, some of that vulnerability and respect is related to the appearance of Li Min.  I loved Li Min and her unorthodox introduction to Nicholas and Sophia.  It was obvious pretty early on that she was playing multiple parties, but that didn’t make me like her any less.  In fact, as Li Min opens up about her past, it becomes clear that even though she’s lying to Nicholas and Sophia about Etta’s whereabouts, she’s doing so to pay back a debt and preserve her honor.  She also manages to save Nicholas and Sophia multiple times, so it would be hard to wish she’d leave them alone.  I liked the relationship that began to develop between Li Min and Sophia; they brought out the best in one another, and I appreciated that Li Min not only encouraged Sophia to open up about her difficulties in dealing with her disability but also helped teach her how to compensate for her blind spot in a fight.  Those little moments move them from friends to something more, and I was glad that they were both willing to open their hearts to each other knowing that even if they both made it out of the final showdown alive, they could still be separated forever when the timeline reset.  Both women are willing to hope for the sake of the other, and it’s obvious that this is a dramatic change in each of their characters brought on by the potential of finally having found someone who could love them just for being themselves.

And speaking of being themselves, the final new character that I came to love was the Belladonna.  I’ve always liked obscenely powerful characters and even more so when those characters were women, so it was hard not to like the Belladonna even in spite of the fact that she was responsible for Nicholas’s slow death via poison.  I loved that the Belladonna owned her position and enjoyed striking terror into the hearts of others.  She is clever, manipulative, and patient, and she has a knack for seeing the truth of a person even if they themselves can’t see it.  I had an inkling early on that the Belladonna was more than she seemed, and that really explained how she’d become the person she was and also how she’d managed to amass such a collection of historical artifacts.  I loved seeing inside the Belladonna’s treasure trove as well as seeing how protective she was of her possessions; although her shop seemed like a terrifying place, it also seemed like it would be fascinating to visit.

The Belladonna is two steps and a few centuries ahead of everyone, and I think it would take a second reading to see all the pieces of her plan and how they fit together.  While I wasn’t wild about the threat that precipitated her having said plan—I’ll get to that in a moment—I did appreciate that she planned a chance for Nicholas and Etta to have their happy ending.  It showed that while the Belladonna may have seemed like an antagonist, she was playing a long game to save everyone, and for that, she landed on my good side.

The other thing I absolutely loved about Wayfarer was the ending.  After the astrolabe is destroyed and everyone is thrown back to and stuck in their original time, it seems like no one will get the happy ending they’ve fought so hard for.  Etta and Nicholas are separated, Rose and Henry are torn from each other and from Etta, Sophia and Li Min lose one another, the Thorns and their families are scattered, and poor Julian is left all alone.  For Etta in particular, it’s a shock as she not only returns to the future by herself, she returns to a future that has been significantly altered due to the reversion back to the original timeline.  It’s hard to see Etta faced with such utter uncertainty, but then again, it’s Etta.  She’s already proven that she’s tough, that she can take a few hits and keep on fighting.  And after an initial period of mourning—for Alice, for her parents, for Nicholas—she makes a plan and gets on with her life.  She finishes school, gets a job, and eventually begins playing the violin again.

I was glad that Etta returned to one of the things she truly loved, but I liked that she chose to play with an orchestra.  Playing as part of a group took some of the pressure off and let Etta enjoy her playing, and it also meant that she didn’t have to be quite so alone, even though she was still forced to hold everyone at arm’s length to keep her past a secret.  I knew something big was going to happen at Etta’s debut concert, not just because there weren’t that many pages left, but because it would be a fitting parallel.  Everything began for Etta at her first big performance in the altered timeline, so of course everything would begin again at the same point in this timeline.

I was smiling like an idiot as Etta found Rose, then Henry, then finally Nicholas in the audience.  It’s such a sweet and encouraging way for them to reveal themselves to Etta, and of course, it gives Nicholas a chance to finally hear Etta play.  And play she does, buoyed by the love and joy she feels at seeing her love and her family again.  The reunion between Etta and Nicholas was perfect, and I was glad that Nicholas explained everything right away: that the image of the astrolabe had been burned into his hand as he destroyed it (a la Major Toht and the headpiece of the Staff of Ra in Raiders of the Lost Ark), that he’d found Rose and Henry and that together they’d gone to see the Belladonna and get something from Etta’s time, that they were opening all the passages to allow everyone to be with their loved ones, that time travel would be possible once again but that the rules would change to keep something like the war between the families from ever happening again.

It’s not a plan without a risk of failure or without its fair share of challenges, but it has to be better than keeping everyone apart forever and never letting anyone experience the wonders and knowledge that time travel can provide.  Of course Etta and Nicholas aren’t going to be forced apart after everything they’ve been through, but I liked that their happy ending was gained alongside that of so many others and via a reasonable and logical means.  It’s the ending they deserve, and I was happy to see them happy and ready to explore new times and new places together.

Despite all the things I loved about Wayfarer, there were a few things that kept it from being a perfect read for me.  The pacing in particular really bothered me.  There was plenty of action in both points of view, but I felt like the characters failed to truly more forward for a good portion of the book.  On Etta’s side, she spends a lot of time getting to know Henry and learning the truth about Rose’s actions, and although learning the truth helps explain as well as change motivations, there isn’t a good balance between exposition and acting upon the new information.  It isn’t really until the explosion in Russia and Etta’s escape with Julian that things really start moving on their end.

Unfortunately, the pacing for Nicholas and Sophia is even slower.  I lost count of how many times Nicholas’s sections ended with him and Sophia in a new time and place but still being chased and collecting new injuries.  Yes, I understand that they’re on the run, but it still seems like their escapes take longer than I would’ve expected from two such resourceful and knowledgeable people.  Maybe it was just that their new enemies were more powerful, more deadly, and more determined than Cyrus Ironwood and his people who had chased Nicholas and Etta in the first book, or perhaps it was that Nicholas and Sophia had to face more traps and plots to keep them from achieving their goal.  Nonetheless, it takes Nicholas’s imminent death to get the group in gear and get them to finally break their cycle of fight-run-hide.  It wasn’t quite a deal breaker for me, but it did make the story seem unnecessarily long, and when a book’s already as long as Wayfarer, you don’t really want it to be too much longer.

But now that I’ve mentioned the new threat that chased after Nicholas and Sophia, I have to admit that I didn’t especially care for the Ancient One and his Shadows.  Do I like the idea of such an ancient and powerful character threatening our main guys and gals?  Yes.  Do I like the idea of a group of highly-trained assassins with terrifying weaponry and nothing to lose? Definitely yes.  But the whole Ancient One plot felt like it came out of left field.  It isn’t that I didn’t like the arrival of another big bad—in truth, a Bigger, Badder—but there was absolutely no indication of anyone else after the astrolabe in Passenger, not even a hint.  And to me, the final book doesn’t seem like the best place to introduce, establish, and make a threat out of a brand new group of characters.

Like I said, it’s not that I disliked the Ancient One and his Shadows because they were bad guys.  In fact, I liked the threat that they created and that there was a bigger story going on aside from the one Etta and Nicholas were immediately involved in.  But the inclusion of the Ancient One almost felt contrived at this point.  Wayfarer could’ve had an equally powerful and dramatic outcome if Cyrus Ironwood has remained the main villain, and the Belladonna’s plot could’ve still been successfully enacted.  It was nice to get more background about the astrolabe and its true power, but that also could’ve been introduced another way.  I guess when it comes down to it, it was the fact that the Ancient One just came out of nowhere that I had a problem with.  If he’d been alluded to in Passenger, or if someone had mentioned the Shadows, or if someone had shared that creepy little nursery rhyme earlier, their appearance might’ve been easier to believe.  As it was, though, they felt shoe-horned in for the sake of adding more danger and drama, and I thought that was a mistake.

I know a lot of people also had a problem with Etta and Nicholas being separated for the majority of the book, but that really didn’t bother me all that much.  Yes, I missed the romance, the banter, and the partnership between them, but being apart allowed each of them to grow and work in ways that they never could have if they’d been together.  And Etta and Nicholas never would’ve gotten to know Julian, Sophia, and Li Min so well if they’d all been together, and it would’ve been a real shame to deprive us of the greatness of these characters.  So perhaps surprisingly, I thought keeping Etta and Nicholas apart until just before the final showdown was a wise decision.

The last thing I want to mention about both Passenger and Wayfarer is how much I love the times and places the characters explore.  They aren’t the typical eras and locations that are used in time travel stories; they’re new (old?) and exciting locales and time periods that allow us readers to learn a little bit more about history and about different cultures both past and present.  The descriptions of these travels are vibrantly written, too, which adds another level of authenticity and fascination to each new place.  I now have a number of new events and people to research and some new places to add to my bucket list.

Overall, Wayfarer is a strong sequel and a wonderful ending to this duology.  I didn’t like it quite as much as I liked Passenger as a whole, but I did love the wonderful and realistic character development, the wide range of new characters, and the perfect ending.  Etta and Nicholas are definitely one of my OTPs, and their determination to fight across time to be with one another shows that nothing can stop true love.  The places and times that are brought to life provide vivid backdrops and turn another time travel story into an intriguing exploration of the past.  Fans of history, family secrets, and star-crossed romances will love the Passenger duology, and I suggest you check them out today.  You  never know when the timeline might shift and keep you from ever getting the chance to read these wonderful books.

Stray Thoughts and Observations:

  • I love the ship imprint on the actual cover of the book!
  • What a brutal opening.  No wonder Rose is so messed up.
  • Etta has gotten to be a right badass.  Her knack for finding/creating weaponry on the fly is awesome.
  • Henry Hemlock is such an awesome name.  Points for alliteration.
  • I love that the Belladonna has Excalibur.  A neat little extra.
  • I would either be a great time traveler or a truly terrible one.  I could learn all the history and the languages and the etiquette easily enough, but I think I would fangirl hard if I ever met anyone truly famous and blow my cover.
  • This reunion between Julian and Sophia is priceless.
  • Kisses in the heat of battle are my favorite.
  • Oh Alice, taking care of Etta to the end and beyond.
  • I definitely need the story of Nicholas, Rose, and Henry going to see the Belladonna and fighting over that keychain.
  • I would like to see Nicholas and Etta pop up in the background of some future book.  They could fit in pretty much anywhere and in any time, so it’s not an unreasonable request. So get on that Bracken, please and thank you.

Favorite Quotes:

  • Rose finally closed her eyes.  She imagined her veins, her ribs, her whole chest hardening like stone to protect the parts of her that hurt so very much.  She was too little to fight them now; Rose knew this.  But she also knew that one day she wouldn’t be.
  • Wondering if the reason her mother seemed to rarely speak to her was because her language was color and form, when Etta’s was sound and vibration.
  • “My mother met that woman and both survived?”
  • If the first woman sang her words, this one crushed them between her teeth.
  • There was something else that Hall used to say—that life itself was uncertainty and the only remedy to its madness was to act boldly.  “There is the journey you make through the world—the one that aches and sings.  We come together with others to make our way and survive its trials,” she said.  “But we are, all of us, also wayfarers on a greater journey, this one without end, each of us searching for the answers to the unspoken questions of our hearts.  Take comfort, as I have, in knowing that, while we must travel it alone, this journey rewards goodness and will prove that the things which are denied to us in life will never create a cage for our souls.”
  • It was simple, but even simple plans were prone to unexpected disasters.
  • “Why didn’t he go way back—beyond ancient times?  Prehistoric.  Actually, how far back do the passages go?  Could you see, like, the dinosaurs?  Cavemen?”  Julian leaned back against the rock, pressing a hand against his chest, his expression one of pure astonishment.  “My God, Linden-Hemlock-Spencer.  I believe you’ve just given me a new purpose in life.”  Etta’s brows drew together.  “Finding new passages?”  “No, hunting for dinosaurs,” he said.  “Why did I never think of that—oh, right, the eating thing.  Big teeth and all.  Well, never mind.”  “How quickly the dream dies.”
  • “I went to the Thorns,” he said quickly, “which was a rotten idea all around.  They despised me and I slept every night with one eye open—oh God—I heard the words leave my mouth and I couldn’t stop them, Soph—“
  • “I don’t really want logic right now, Carter.  I mostly want murder.”
  • A man made his own future.  He chipped it from whatever hardships insinuated themselves into his life; he carved out the happy, glad moments to capture his gratitude for them.  It came from the simple magic of merely living.
  • “Name the horizon, and it’s ours.”

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