Review: Wayfarer

After reading Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger/Wayfarer series, I do believe that duologies may be my favorite.  The first book draws you in and leaves you wanting more of the world and the story and then the second book delivers without making things feel too drawn out.  Wayfarer is a highly enjoyable sequel that not only delivers on the promise of this family conflict across thousands of years and every continent but also takes the story in an unexpected direction and adds in new elements to keep the world feeling fresh.

At the heart of the story are Etta and Nicholas.  When last we left our heroes, they were separated thanks to a massive shift in the timeline.  Etta’s a very likable heroine who has been thrust into a fairly awful situation by a mother who’s not exactly in the running for Parent of the Year while Nicholas is such a solidly good person despite life having dealt him a fairly crappy hand of cards.  Bracken both fleshes out her existing cast and expands it in delightfully diverse ways.  The two standouts in this book include new character Li Min and previous antagonist Sophia who not only looks pretty badass now but gets a rather excellent character arc.  (Who isn’t a sucker for a well-executed ‘bad guy turned reluctant good guy ally’ plot line?)  The more I think about Sophia, the more I like her which is impressive given how much I disliked her at the start of Passenger.  That’s another great thing about Bracken’s writing: all of her female characters are distinct and don’t fill any sort of stereotypical role that feels obligatory or like they’re there just to check a box.  (Of course, one would expect nothing less from an author who wrote such a great Princess Leia.)

The entire conceit of Wayfarer allows Bracken to dive into a plethora of locations, time periods, and alternate timelines that keep everything exciting and new especially since I suspect that the vast majority of the readers aren’t familiar with all of the times/locations.  I usually try to avoid spoilers but early 20th century Russian history fans are in for a treat.  It would be wonderful to see more authors take a note from this duology and branch a little further away from the Western norm.  It’s also worth noting that the rules for time travel are kept consistent and logical; something not always easily done.

Most importantly though, Wayfarer’s ending is satisfying and poignant and not depressing; something that I suspect a lot of people in this world could use right now.  That’s not to say that the series hasn’t had its share of sad and tragic moments but the books left me feeling happy and content.  These are books that I would happily recommend to my younger cousins in middle and high school and also to my like-aged friends in their 20s and 30s.  There’s a little something for everyone here in these books and I could happily read more stories about the warring families if Alex Bracken ever chooses to write them.

Like Passenger before it, Wayfarer gets a strong recommendation.  If you’d like to immerse yourself in a fun fantastical world that’s rich in history and filled with excellent characters, both books are well-worth your time.

Thank you to Hyperion for providing an advanced copy of this book for review purposes.

Review: Passenger

You know how sometimes you’ll pick up a book you only know a tiny bit about but expect to be enjoyable? And then you start reading the book and realize that it’s so much more than you expected and that you’re having too much fun to put the book down? That’s how Passenger by Alexandra Bracken was for me. I’m always down for a fun, time travel story back to Colonial times (blame it on Felicity being my favorite American Girl growing up) but this gave us time travel through a lot of time periods and a pair of throughly enjoyable protagonists.

But let us backtrack for a moment. Passenger is about a violin prodigy named Etta Spencer who gets thrown not only backwards in time but also into a family conflict that spans thousands of years. Whether she likes it or not, she’s now on the hunt across the ages for a very powerful object with only days to find it and her only help is from a man named Nicholas Carter who may or may not be on her side.

Etta’s realistic attitude towards being trust into this mess is refreshing. She’s not immediately an expert at whatever time she finds herself in and her initial reaction to finding herself on a ship in Colonial times immediately after experiencing a tragedy is refreshingly honest. Her friendship with Nicholas evolves naturally as does their romance. (Speaking of which, there are no love triangles here!) Nicholas is another well-rounded character.  He too feels out of place but for reasons that are most definitely framed within his time period. Bracken doesn’t brush all the prejudices against Nicholas under the rug but rather uses them to influence what sort of person he is.

Another thing that makes this book so fun is that I never knew where (or when) Etta and Nicholas might find themselves next. The story isn’t restricted to just the Western World and actually peaked my interest in these other areas of history.

Fair warning! Passenger ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and, if you get as caught up in the story as I did, you’ll likely lament that Wayfarer isn’t in your hands yet. And if that’s not a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

Review: The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy

At its core, the young reader retellings of the Original Trilogy sounded like they were unnecessary.  After all, hasn’t the target audience seen the movies? Doesn’t Lucasfilm have enough of our money?  Thankfully, the folks over in Lucasfilm’s publishing office found a way to put a fun spin on each of the three books and definitely caught our attention with the released excerpts.  All three are out today but first, obviously, is The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken.  The concept is simple: tell a third of the story from the point of view of each of our three main heroes.  Leia gets the first third, Han the middle, and Luke the finale and this is where the fun begins.

Bracken draws from not just the films but also the radio dramas for inspiration as she dives into each character’s heads and proves herself to be a good pick for the book and for Star Wars.  At times, it can be a little jarring to read the film dialogue verbatim but that’s unavoidable for this sort of book and not a mark against her writing.  Instead, it’s more worthwhile to focus on where Bracken really succeeds.  It’s a relatively quick read that adds enough to the story that we already know so well to stay interesting to adult readers as well as kids.  There are some lines that will make a reader laugh out loud and others that are just so beautifully written and capture everything about a moment.

Characterization is where this book really succeeds and is does so brilliantly as we get inside every characters’ head. Bracken joins an elite yet growing list of authors who write a very good Leia.  She has the unenviable task of writing Leia be tortured by Vader and as she loses everything and doing so while we’re right inside of her head and she does so well.  It’d be fantastic to see what she could do with the freedom to write her own plot.

Of the three sections, Luke’s is probably the least successful as it mostly ends up being starfighter battle scenes which, by their very nature, tend to be a little less engaging on the page than on the screen.  The longer scene where he and Leia talk on the Falcon and then the added one with Wedge before he’s allowed to join Red Squadron are standouts for how awesome they are.  It’s moments like these that make the book definitely worth reading.

While it may not be a must-have for every Star Wars fan, The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy is an enjoyable read that breaths fresh life into a classic story and Alex Bracken is definitely a welcome addition to the Star Wars galaxy.