Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

The basics

Title: Passenger


Series: Passenger #1

- Passenger (2016)
- Wayfarer (2017)

Add it: Goodreads

Goodreads Summary:

Passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy 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 traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

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 that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.

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

Read a full summary of Passenger by Alexandra Bracken below. If you can’t remember what happened in Passenger and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place.

This recap of Passengerwas written by the wonderful Reagan Mauk @ YA Book Bridges

in short

Etta Spencer discovers she is a member of a family of time-travelers (called Passengers) who have the ability to travel through passages linked throughout time. Cyrus Ironwood (who is EVIL and controls the timeline) masterminds a plan, kidnapping Etta from her natural time (the present) and brings her back to 1776, which is “when” in time he’s stationed his headquarters. Cyrus is the head of the most powerful family of travelers, the Ironwoods, and Etta’s mother (Rose) fostered with the Ironwoods when she was a child. Cyrus alleges that Rose stole and hid from him a magic astrolabe that can create time passages. Ironwood is convinced Rose told Etta where she hid the astrolabe and holds Etta’s mom hostage until Etta finds and surrenders the astrolabe. Etta ends up partnered, partly by chance and partly by deception, with Ironwood’s bastard grandson Nicholas to retrieve the astrolabe. Through clues Rose embedded in Etta’s memory through Rose’s painting, Etta and Nicholas succeed in locating the astrolabe only to have it snatched from their hands at the last minute. Etta and Nicholas are both injured in the process, now Ironwood has the astrolabe, and retrieving it changes the timeline, stranding them in two different times and places. (Cliffhanger much?)

what happened in Passenger?

  • Etta and her emotional robot of a mom (Rose) live in modern Manhattan where Etta has gained notoriety as a violin prodigy. Etta’s violin instructor/family friend/almost aunt, Alice, has set up a performance at the Met as a kind of rehearsal for Etta’s violin “debut”.
  • Before Etta takes the stage, she tries to find her mom and Alice to see why they’re not in the audience yet and overhears them arguing about her. The phrases “not ready” and “unprepared” are thrown around and Etta’s devastated thinking her mom and her instructor don’t believe she’s got the chops to be a professional violin performer.
  • Etta (who suffered from wicked stage fright when she was younger but has totally OWNED it in recent years) “relapses” and leaves the stage where she’s comforted by Sophia (sneaky bitch).
  • Sophia, who is an Ironwood and pretending to be another performer in the concert (see? SNEAKY!), guides Etta to a stairwell in the Met where, right before they pass through a shimmering, yowling “wall”, she sees her violin instructor Alice shot. Devastation.
  • Etta awakes (in 1776!!!) on a ship several days later (because traveler’s sickness knocked her out) with Sophia who admits she kidnapped Etta and brought her to the past.
  • In a weird Trading Questions Game, Sophia snarkily explains…
  • Travelers inherit their ability and there are 4 time-traveling families (of which the Ironwoods are the most powerful) who all, at one time, owned one each of the magic astrolabes.
  • Each family has people loyal to them called Guardians who monitor the passages and protect their family’s travelers.
  • The Ironwoods have been “controlling” the timeline for years and have absorbed or destroyed the other families’ members.
  • There is only 1 remaining astrolabe, which Cyrus Ironwood desperately wants so he can maintain control of the timeline, and he thinks that Etta is the key to finding it.
  • Enter Nicholas Carter (Ironwood) the bastard son of *gasp* Cyrus Ironwood’s son and a slave woman. Nicholas is the captain of the ship Sophia and Etta have “landed” on and he takes them back to the Ironwood camp in 1776 New York. This being (supposedly) the last task Nicholas must complete for Ironwood before he is truly free of Ironwood’s control.
  • Nicholas has his own baggage with the Ironwoods relating to his dubious origins, Ironwood’s evilness, and Nicholas’s involvement in Julien’s death (Ironwood’s grandson and heir).
  • THEN things get complicated because CHEMISTRY between Nicholas and Etta. Her modern sensibilities from the 21st century shock and intrigue him. Nicholas’s decorum and reserve impress and enamor Etta. Cue conversation laced with flirtatious curiosity on the deck of the ship.
  • Nicholas, Sophia, and Etta all return to Ironwood’s stronghold, where he (creepily) reveals Rose’s hostage status and demands Etta find the astrolabe or he’ll kill Rose. Etta agrees while predictably vowing to herself to NEVER GIVE THE ASTROLABE TO IRONWOOD.
  • After Etta acquiesces (because what choice does she have: dead mom or astrolabe?), Nicholas sticks around to collect his payment for safely delivering the girls.
  • BUT *dramatic music* Ironwood sweetens the deal. IF Nicholas “befriends” Etta and ensures that the astrolabe is returned, Ironwood will leave off being an asshole to Nicholas and give him Ironwood’s business interests in the Caribbean.
  • Etta tries to steal away in the dead of night to get a jump on finding the astrolabe, but Nicholas anticipates her sneakery (yes, sneakery), and follows her through the passage.
  • They land in 1940 London where Etta wakes to find Nicholas with her because still traveler’s sickness. They agree to work together to find the astrolabe, each pretending they will return it to Ironwood with no ulterior motive (LIARS, LIARS-PANTS ON FIRE!).
  • Using the super-secret decryption method she shares with her mom, Etta interprets the message in the letter Ironwood gave her from her mom. When they discover the museum the secret message points to has been emptied of its treasures, they’re stymied until Etta remembers Alice.
  • They visit Young Alice in 1940 London who reveals she is a Guardian and knows all about travelers and Rose and all the things. Alice gives them needed info about where the next passage is located and totally DENIES Etta when she tries to warn Alice about her eventual death.
  • They make it to the subway for the passage to the next link on the trail toward the astrolabe. *ROMANTIC INTERLUDE* Feelings between Nicholas and Etta simmer in the London Underground but Complications because 18th century mulatto dude plus 21st century white chick equals Where Do They Belong?
  • Then they jump the passage to the jungle in Cambodia in 1685. After tigers! and cobras! and bears! (not really bears), Etta realizes that they seem to be traveling through passages that mirror a set of her mother’s paintings that have hung in their living room her entire life. Yay! A map in her head!
  • They mistakenly take a passage that leads to 1840 Paris where Etta (who looks hella like her mom) is mistaken for Rose by Augustus Ironwood a.k.a. Nicholas’s lecherous dad.
  • They travel back to Cambodia and find the real passage that takes them to 1599 Damascus where they land in a secret apartment that Grandfather Linden and Rose used as a secret treasure cache and meeting place.
  • *ROMANTIC INTERLUDE* Etta and Nicholas’s feelings have been mounting and come to critical mass in the Damascus apartment. They both struggle with how to make a life together for themselves in any era given the differences in their natural times’ social mores and their own emotional baggage. However, FEELINGS and sexy times ensue.
  • Hassaan, Etta’s half-uncle, agrees to lead Etta and Nicholas to the astrolabe’s location in the desert. As they prepare for the trek, they are set upon in the local bazaar by thugs they assume to be Ironwood cronies. Etta is almost impaled by a dagger thrown from her own mother’s (young, time traveling Rose’s) hand. Nicholas is injured trying to protect Etta.
  • Sophia shows up as an extension of the strong Ironwood hand and forces Etta to head out to the astrolabe’s location, leaving feverish Nicholas to fend for himself in a Damascus hospital, a.k.a. a tent. Cue heartfelt confessions and farewell tears.
  • Sophia, Etta, and the bodyguards arrive at the desert tomb where the astrolabe is hidden. Etta recognizes the Linden tree carved into a stone hiding its location.
  • Etta prepares to destroy the astrolabe as she has planned when Nicholas shows up. DISTRACTION!
  • The guards who had been traveling with Sophia up until this point, turn on her and attempt to steal the astrolabe. In the ensuing melee, Etta loses the astrolabe and Nicholas, still weak from his fever, is unable to keep Sophia and the traitor-guards from leaving. The astrolabe is gone and now in the hands of these mysterious henchmen.

how did Passenger end?

While Etta worries over Nicholas’s weakened state, they both realize that Etta is injured and !bleeding! right before a big flash and Etta disappears just like Julien. *Insert helpless flashback plus tragic memories here* Nicholas despairs thinking all is lost and Etta is dead and HEARTBREAK. He lies in the tomb and decides there’s no reason to go on when… Rose shows up. She explains that when the astrolabe changed hands, the flash was the timeline shifting and there’s a more than good chance that Etta is still alive. AND THEN IT’S OVER.

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