Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

Wayfarer (Passenger #2)
By: Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 978-148471576-5


In the span of just a few days, Etta Spencer's life has been thrown into turmoil, as she's gone from aspiring concert violinist to time traveler, determined to save her mother from a despot determined to seize an astrolabe that allows one to control time and rewrite history. But when her mission with Nicholas Carter, the handsome privateer -- and grandson of her family's greatest enemy, Cyrus Ironwood -- goes sideways, Etta is ripped from Nicholas's side and left orphaned from her natural timeline. Thrust into a world she doesn't recognize, Etta is captured by the rogue Thorn family. It is among the Thorns that Etta discovers shocking secrets about her own parentage, calling into question everything she once held to be true and rocking her fledgling faith in her mother to her core. As Etta learns about her familial heritage, she discovers that traveling is a sacred trust, and every decision she makes has the potential to transform not only her future, but the entire world's, forever. And her dream of a future with Nicholas may be the price she is forced to pay in order to prevent Ironwood's quest for power.

With Etta lost to time, Nicholas is left trapped with his hostile cousin Sophia as his best ally in his quest to find Etta and break his grandfather's hold on his life forever. As Etta discovers the secrets of the Thorns, Nicholas and Sophia discover the truth behind the travelers' powers -- a terrifying, ancient, age-old battle between long-hidden forces with the power to not just rewrite the timeline, but to destroy the world as they know it. Desperate to reunite with Etta, Nicholas makes a dangerous bargain that leaves him with no choice -- to become that which he hates most, or die, either option promising to compromise every honorable precept he's fought his heritage to claim as his own. As his path converges with Etta's in their race to find the astrolabe, he must find the strength to resist the siren song of the one thing he wants most -- a future with Etta,  a dream that, if claimed, could cost their world everything they know and hold dear.

After finally reading Passenger last month, I immediately dove into Wayfarer, as the thought of delaying the discovery of Nicholas and Etta's fate was simply unthinkable. I was somewhat surprised by the change in tone and the core dynamic of the Wayfarer narrative, as Passenger was tightly focused on Etta's point-of-view, interspersed with Nicholas's perspective, whereas this installment is more evenly divided, and in my opinion heavily weighted to Nicholas's viewpoint. In Passenger, through Etta, Bracken introduces her gloriously absorbing take on the mechanics of time travel and the heady reality of not only seeing history, but the chance to live it. The first installment in this duology is a non-stop adventure with a highly romantic focus, as Nicholas and Etta discover not only each other but seek to reconcile their wildly disparate views and navigate their respective experiences vis-a-vis race relations within the reality of the time periods in which they travel.

With Wayfarer, Bracken sacrifices some of the heady flush of new romance in favor of raising the stakes in regards to the time travel/adventure element of the storyline, diving deep into the history and potential of the travelers' virtually limitless potential. By separating Nicholas and Etta for the bulk of the narrative, each is forced to come to terms with their identity as a traveler and the responsibility such a life entails -- should they seek to use their gift wisely. Accepting their shared inheritance comes at a cost, and in order to do so Bracken forces both Nicholas and Etta to confront the prejudice and privilege of their respective time periods. The tumultuous history at the root of the conflict between the traveling families was a deliciously dark surprise, cementing Bracken as not just another YA fantasy author, but a master  wordsmith capable of spinning a heady web of thought-provoking fantasy, never hesitating to address the twin dark plagues of prejudice and unchecked evil that have colored mankind's experience throughout history.

If Passenger is a romantic journey of self-discovery, Wayfarer is a journey of purpose. Within the pages of each installment, Bracken has reimagined and refreshed the tropes of the hero's journey. In Etta and Nicholas, readers are given two heroes to not only cheer for but who inspire, as they realistically confront the twin capacity for good and evil within themselves and each, inspired by the other, strive to give their better angels sway. While I adored everything about this story, from Bracken's world-building and globe-spanning plot to her breathtakingly human characterizations, I perhaps love most how she subverted my expectations as to the story's outcome. The heavy emphasis on Etta's point-of-view in Passenger lulled me into a false expectation as to Etta's importance relative to Nicholas in the overall arc of the story -- but what I didn't stop to consider was that Passenger and Wayfarer are, essentially, two halves of one giant whole.

Over the course of this breathtakingly original tale, this becomes as much Nicholas's story as Etta's, if not arguably moreso his, as he becomes a man who confronts both age-old prejudice and the temptation of his familial heritage -- from a family who very nearly always grossly underestimated his potential. If Etta is the reader's entree into history, Nicholas is a powerful reminder of how the forgotten and overlooked throughout history possessed stories worth writing and potential worth exploring, not by virtue of their social position  but by virtue of their very existence. For while history is writ large by the victors and socially dominant, it is often those everyday men and women who have the greatest lessons of sacrifice and honor to teach us, if, like Etta, we can learn to see beyond the color of one's skin or social antecedents to the humanity common to us all.

Wayfarer brings Nicholas and Etta's time-traveling thrill ride to a stunning conclusion. These novels have been a reading experience like no other. Romantic, thrilling, and wholly absorbing, this was a story I never wanted to end. I adored Bracken's world-building and carefully-crafted characters, each organic to the time of their origin. That, perhaps, is one of this duology's more stunning feats, as Bracken never sacrifices historical reality for fictional expediency. For every moment of breath-taking, time-travel wish fulfillment, the harsh truths of history that Etta and Nicholas cope with are never diminished for fictional expediency. Wayfarer is that rare treat, a gorgeously-rendered conclusion to a tale that exemplifies intelligent, wildly creative storytelling, and taken as a whole this set of novels marks one of the most wholly satisfying reading experiences of recent memory. Nicholas and Etta and their vibrantly-realized world have taken up permanent residence in my heart, for theirs is a story that has stayed with me long after finishing Wayfarer's final pages, and is one I know I shall be tempted to revisit often.

About the book:

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.

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