Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken, was published in 2016 by Hyperion.

alexandra-bracken-passengerIn 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’s 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 travel 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.

Passenger has an interesting world, one that reminds me a little bit of D. J. McHale’s Pendragon series if only because of the passages. The travelers travel through passages between different years, arriving on the same day of that year as the one they left. Bracken neatly avoids the “running into yourself” time-traveling problem by simply having travelers incapable of traveling to times they’ve already been to, although I think they could get around that by going to an earlier year and then waiting it out normally. She also avoids the “erasing” problem by having the traveler be thrown somewhere in time, before the timeline got messed up, rather than erased completely.

So, I did like that aspect of it. I thought it was mostly well-explained and woven into the world nicely. The worldbuilding and writing were great; Bracken has really improved on that score since Brightly Woven.

But what ruined the book for me was the romance, which was boring and completely like every other YA romance written. Not only is there insta-love, but Etta and Nicholas follow the usual patterns: Boy and girl secretly like each other. Girl wants to get with boy, but boy resists because of reasons. Boy finally gives in (usually in some sort of dangerous situation where they’re forced in close proximity to each other). Boy and girl fight after getting together. Something happens to boy or girl, boy and girl are separated, boy and girl vow to get back together No Matter What Happens.

I hated the romance the instant it appeared and hated it more and more the longer time was wasted with Etta thinking about the warmth of Nicholas’s skin and the ripple of his muscles. The romance dragged the plot into the ground and made the middle of the book incredibly slow-moving and tedious. I had to skim by the last quarter of the book because I was so irritated. It does get slightly better at the end, but despite my love for Bracken, Passenger is not a win for me. I doubt I’ll pick up the sequel.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Looking from face to face—the knit caps, a crooked and fraying wig, a few wet eyes discreetly wiped against shoulders—her mind began the work of piecing it all together as if she were sight-reading a new piece of music. The notes became measures, and the measures phrases, until finally the whole melody drifted through her.

She was not in the museum. So, obviously, the rescue workers must have carried her out into the street, away from that strange explosion of noise and light. Her skin, hair, and dress were drenched through and through, because—because of the building’s sprinklers, right?

And the costumes…maybe there had been some kind of play going on in a nearby building and they’d rushed out to help? Etta wasn’t sure—what did firemen actually wear under their uniforms? No, Etta, she thought, they don’t wear loose white shirts, or buckle shoes, or hats straight out of Masterpiece Theatre.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/21FDknb

In The Afterlight: Solid Finish, But Predictable

Note: Possible changes are coming! Don’t be surprised if the entire look of the blog changes.

In The Afterlight is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the final book in the Darkest Minds trilogy. Also check out my reviews of the first book, The Darkest Minds, and the second, Never Fade.

Spoilers for the series.

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. Only Ruby can keep their highly dangerous prisoner in check. But with Clancy Gray, there’s no guarantee you’re fully in control, and everything comes with a price.

When the Children’s League disbands, Ruby rises up as a leader and forms an unlikely allegiance with Liam’s brother, Cole, who has a volatile secret of his own. There are still thousands of other Psi kids suffering in government “rehabilitation camps” all over the country. Freeing them—revealing the government’s unspeakable abuses in the process—is the mission Ruby has claimed since her own escape from Thurmond, the worst camp in the country.

But not everyone is supportive of the plan Ruby and Cole craft to free the camps. As tensions rise, competing ideals threaten the mission to uncover the cause of IAAN, the disease that killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others with powers the government will kill to keep contained. With the fate of a generation in their hands, there is no room for error. One wrong move could be the spark that sets the world on fire.”

Thoughts:

Bracken’s trilogy as a whole is fairly formulaic, but enjoyable nonetheless, and In The Afterlight, while pretty predictable, is a solid end to the series. Snarky Chubs is my favorite and Cole continues to be an intriguing character, although what I thought was going to happen with him didn’t actually happen. And Bracken never explained why he was the way he was.

I do wish that the romance had been a little more original. There was the usual “fall in love with guy, break up with him for reasons, get back together but have trouble trusting/agreeing/etc.” with the inclusion of “guy and girl sleep together and all their problems are solved.” Yeah…there’s nothing wrong with that portrayal of sex at all…

Books like these are best read close together, but it’s been a while since I’ve read Never Fade and as a result I think my connection to the characters faded a little bit. Ruby and Co. seemed to be really connected to characters like Zu, a connection that I just didn’t feel. Also, Vida’s connection to Cate didn’t make sense to me. Perhaps I would feel the connection more if I had a fresher memory of the events of The Darkest Minds.

The one glaring mar of this book was the ending. Everything was wrapped up a little too neatly, I thought, and Chub’s speech at the end almost completely ruined the book for me. You shouldn’t need one of your characters to give a speech talking about what your book is really about, because 1.) what happens in the book should have conveyed that already and 2.) it makes the message seem really shallow. I also had a really hard time buying what Chubs was saying because it made absolutely no sense. It was so unsubtle and out of place that it was really jarring, and it made the message lose a lot of depth.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, graphic imagery, death, swearing, kissing and non-graphic descriptions of sex.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

My hands shook like crazy as I tried to work the handle on the front door, the enormous metal indentation popping and protesting. There was so much adrenaline running through me, it was amazing I didn’t rip the whole thing off its hinges. “Liam? Liam, can you hear me?”

He turned toward me slowly, coming out of his stupor. “I told him it would roll.”

I almost sobbed in relief as I reached through the window and kissed him. “You did.”

“I told him.”

“You did, I know you did,” I said, low and soothing as I reached in to unbuckle his seatbelt.

Overall Review:

In The Afterlight is a solid finish to a formulaic and slightly predictable, yet fun trilogy. I didn’t buy some of the connections the characters had, but I am putting that down to the length of time that passed between my reading of each book rather than to any fault of Bracken’s. I absolutely hated the ending, however, since I thought it cheapened the book’s message and made Bracken sound like a cheerleader.

You can buy this here: In the Afterlight

Never Fade: The Trilogy Format Strikes Again

Never Fade is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2013 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Darkest Minds. The last book of the trilogy is due out in October. Bracken’s website can be found here.

General spoilers for The Darkest Minds and Never Fade

Summary/Blurb:

“Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader,” but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is saved in only one place: a flash drive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?”

What I Liked:

I’ve been waiting to read this book for so long, ever since I read The Darkest Minds and absolutely loved it. And this book is a worthy successor: it has plot twists/reveals spread all throughout the book, it has enough revelatory information that it doesn’t seem like all just set-up for the last Bam, Plot! book (coughAllegiantcough), and Ruby, while still struggling with her powers, seems to be heading in a direction that won’t lead her to self-angst anymore.

I was totally expecting Ruby to completely destroy Clancy at the end, as a sort of turning point for her character, but upon reflection, her turning point really came with Rob in the truck. It made her longing for a cure that much more powerful at the end.

Interesting development with Cole. I wonder if we’ll see more people like him in the next book…?

I don’t particularly like self-empowerment plots; the last sentencing of the summary makes me cringe: “But what if winning the war means losing herself?” Yeah, okay, because “losing yourself,” whatever that means, is so much more detrimental than a destructive war that is killing people. But before you start wondering why this is in “Like” rather than “Dislike,” I found that this plot is actually pretty bearable and more interesting than most. Or perhaps I’m too invested in the characters and the situation to care too much. We’ll see what happens in the last book.

What I Didn’t Like:

CLIFFHANGER NOOOOO! Dislike for two reasons: one, because it means I have to wait probably a year or so before I get to read the next book, and two, because I am so sick of the FSASCH (for the unaware: First Stands Alone, Second Cliff Hangs) formula. A good book shouldn’t need a cliffhanger to want people to read the next one; and doubly so because this is the second book. If people were likely to stop reading, they would do so after the first one. If they read the second book, they’re probably in for the long haul (not always, of course. It was the second book of the volcano eruption survival book, Ashen Winter, which made me stop).

I don’t like when authors establish character purely through language use. Vida’s vocabulary was almost entirely swear words, and to me it just seemed like Bracken was using profanity as a crutch; i.e. as an excuse not to show Vida’s character in other ways. I’ve always felt that the use of profanity in books is a crutch or an excuse, but it really stood out here with Vida. You shouldn’t have to depend on profanity to establish character.

I’m kind of annoyed that Liam’s mind wasn’t completely wiped and that he remembered Ruby in the space of about five seconds (hyperbolically). I think there would have been more potential character development in Liam’s “amnesia” then in the fact that he remembers and is mad at her for it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Swearing, violence, kissing, graphic imagery, death.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult

An appropriate description of both books (and I just couldn’t resist)

Passages/Quotes:

My brain was firing at a rapid pace, drumming up one horribly possibility after another. “So the intel on that flash drive—it was research that you stole?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Something like that?” I repeated in disbelief. “I don’t even get to know what’s on the stupid thing?”

He hesitated long enough that I was sure he wouldn’t actually tell me. “Think about it—what’s the one thing every parent of a dead kid wants to know? The one thing scientists have been after for years?”

The cause of the Psi disease.

~Bracken 82

Knox had made sure to warp him up real pretty in a series of robes and chains. There was a bandanna over his mouth, clenched between yellow teeth, and all I could think was, I wish they had covered his eyes instead.

Rimmed with crust and lined with bruises, his eyes pierced through the shadows between us, black and bottomless. He was looking at us, straight through us, into us.

I knew what Olivia had been calling out to me now. I could hear her voice ringing high and clear in my mind.

Red, Ruby, Red.

Overall Review:

Never Fade continues the high-paced action, the reveals, and the cool powers of the previous book. However, I had more problems with this book, such as the getting-old-fast cliffhanger ending and Liam’s convenient “my mind isn’t wiped after all” situation. I still can’t wait for the last book, though.

You can buy this here: Never Fade (A Darkest Minds Novel)

Brightly Woven: It’s Not The Most Complex, But It’s Cute

Brightly Woven is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2010 by Egmont. It is Bracken’s first novel. Bracken’s website can be found here.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“The day the rains came was like any other, blistering air coating the canyon in a heavy stillness….

Just as the rains come after ten long, dry years, a young wizard, Wayland North, appears, to whisk Sydelle Mirabil away from her desert village. North needs an assistant, and Sydelle is eager to see the country—and to join him on his quest to stop the war that surely will destroy her home. But North has secrets—about himself, about why he chose Sydelle, about his real reasons for the journey. What does he want from her? And why does North’s worn enemy seem fascinated by Sydelle himself?”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

The man in the pale overcoat gave me a smile as he pulled away and lifted his hand to his lips. With a single breath, he blew a cloud of blue powder from his palm, which expanded and grew around me like a thundercloud. Is aw the man’s face flash before me, and for the first time I saw the horrible scars that he had kept hidden beneath his hat. The right side of his face looked as though some wild animal had mauled it—his eyelid had melted down his cheek, and the deep, red lines continued across his face to where his ear should have been.

His free hand took mine again, and I couldn’t pull away.

~Bracken 47-48

“By the heavenly bosom of Vesta! It’s a raging downpour out there!”

I leaned around the edge of the bookshelf, unsure of whether I wanted to be seen.

“It certainly is!” Mr. Colar said cheerfully. “Please come in. I already have one refugee!”

“Oh?” Owain said. “Any pretty girls with hair as red as roses?”

“About this tall?” Mr. Colar asked.

“Wearing a blue dress?” Owain replied. “Blue eyes?”

“Lots of freckles?”

“Just a bit on the nose and cheeks—smallish nose, a little upturned?”

“For goodness’ sake!” I stepped out from behind the bookshelf. “I’m right here! You could have just called for me.”

~Bracken 104

Cover Art

Warnings: None

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

This book is really, really sweet and cute. It has some pretty decent worldbuilding and the plot is pretty good, too, although it’s more romantically based than anything, hence the sweetness and cuteness of it. So, don’t read this book if you want some great fantasy worlds/magic/etc. Read this book if you like really sweet, cute romances. You’ll squeal all the time, I promise.

So, it’s obviously Bracken’s first novel; it’s a little underdeveloped and rough around the edges. But it’s a lot of fun to read, and I rank it among my favorite fantasies. But the thing I really liked about this novel is when I compare it to The Darkest Minds, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. You can really see the development of Bracken as a writer between this book and The Darkest Minds. In this book, she’s a bit more indulgent, a bit more focused on romance rather than plot, but now, she’s really matured and developed and it’s obvious when you read The Darkest Minds. If you want plot, character development, and all that, read The Darkest Minds. But if you want fun, some indulgence, and a really cute romance, read Brightly Woven.

Fan art by chelsea bee on deviantart

Also, there’s a lot of potential here for a sequel, because North still has a certain issue that’s never dealt with…

What I Didn’t Like:

Like I said above, it’s more romance-focused, so the plot suffers a little, and there’s not much character development.

Overall Review:

Brightly Woven is more for the cute romance-lover than the fantasy-lover, but fantasy lovers would probably appreciate the world and the magic that Bracken created while still enjoying the romance. It’s a little underdeveloped and indulgent, but it’s a fun read that I would chose to reread over some of the other, better developed fantasies out there.

Coming Up Next: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The Darkest Minds: I Have No Words To Describe How Much I Love This Book

The Darkest Minds is written by Alexandra Bracken. It was published in 2012 by Hyperion. It is the first in a trilogy (what else is new?). Random tidbit: it was originally called Black is the Color. Bracken’s website can be found here.

Genre: Dystopian, Supernatural, Young Adult, Realistic

Summary/Blurb:

“When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

I’m not one of them. Please, please, please…

I fell, dropping to my knees, bracing my hands against the tile, trying to keep from being sick all over myself and the floor. The white coat’s hand still gripped the back of my neck. “I’m Green,” I sobbed, the words half lost to the machine’s buzzing. The light had been bright before, but now it only amplified the pounding behind my eyes. I stared into his blank eyes, willing him to believe me. “I’m Green…please, please…”

But I saw my mother’s face, the smile the boy with the broken mouth had given me, like he had recognized something of himself in me. I knew what I was.

“Green…”

I looked up at the sound of the voice that floated down to me. I stared, and he stared right back, his eyes unfocused. He was mumbling something now, his mouth full of mush, like he was chewing on the words.

“I’m—”

“Green,” he said, shaking his head.

~Bracken 23

Chubs slapped the side of the minivan. “Don’t tell me you believe that, Lee. We knew everyone by the time we broke out.”

Broke out. They actually escaped. Shock left me speechless for several moments until I asked, finally, “Really? All three thousand of them?”

The boys took a step back at the same time.

“You had three thousand kids at your camp?” Liam asked.

“Why?” I looked between them, unnerved. “How many were in your camp?”

“Three hundred at most,” Liam said. “Are you sure?” Three thousand?”

~Bracken 128-129

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing, violence

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

Oh, man, this book. THIS BOOK.

Ok, so first of all, Alexandra Bracken is, like, 23 years old. She wrote her first book, Brightly Woven (which is also amazing, and something that I will review in the future), when she was about 17. She revised it for a few years, but still. The point is, she’s a young’un. And this book is fantastic. It’s really, really good.

Ruby’s development is great. She sees herself as a monster because that’s all she’s been taught for almost half of her life (this book is a great example of brainwashing). She struggles with herself as an Orange because she sees how people view Oranges, and she sees how Oranges act. As in, all the ones she interacts with are power hungry and want to control people (this book is also a great example of how power corrupts). She doesn’t want to accept her abilities or use them because she’s afraid she will end up like them. The end of the book, and the summary for the next, promises more inner conflict and development with Ruby and her powers and her acceptance of her powers.

That’s a cool bag.

The twists and turns in the storyline were great. Some were unexpected, some inevitable, but still good, the ending in particular. It leaves you with a “Hmm…how is she going to get out of this one?” type of feel. It’s not really a cliffhanger, but it still will want you wanting more.

I actually wasn’t quite sure how to label this one, genre-wise. The Library of Congress calls it “science fiction,” but it’s really not. It’s more Dystopian than anything, but I also labeled it as Supernatural because of the psychic powers the kids have. And obviously it’s Realistic because it takes place in the realistic/natural world.

Anyway, if you couldn’t tell, I really, really enjoyed this book. I think Bracken has a great career in front of her if she can keep writing books like this one and Brightly Woven.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing!

Overall Review:

The Darkest Minds is a fantastic book. Ruby has some great potential character development ready to happen, and the things that happened in this book will just leave you wanting to know more about this world and what happens to the people. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dystopian thrillers. The hardest part will be waiting six months for the next book to come out.

Coming Up Next: The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman