Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

wayfarer

Passenger Series Book 2, Hyperion, 2017, 532 pgs.

So now the timeline has shifted once again, separating Etta and Nicholas at the very crux of their journey. Stranding them from the only person each could trust, right after they’d failed at their goal of finding the Astrolabe and needed each others’ support the most. And without a plan, without knowing how their actions have changed the timeline, without even any idea of what year they’ve each been thrown to, the journey back to each other could be the most perilous yet. Because Etta finds herself badly injured and stuck with the Thorns, whom she can neither trust nor agree with. Even if their leader is her father. Even if he begins to call into question what little her mother, Rose, has told her about the time traveler’s world. Nicholas, for his part, finds himself forced to deal with both the arrogant and intractable Sophia Ironwood, a former enemy turned reluctant tag-along, and the mysterious mercenary that’s been stalking the both of them, claiming to have knowledge of what they’re looking for. Together, and separately, they’ll all stumble down into the dark secret of the Traveler‘s existence.

Spoilers for both books

I wonder if Alexandra Bracken’s work is always going to throw me for a loop regarding how to talk about it, because much like the first book in the series, I have badly mixed feelings regarding Wayfarer.

It’s a little frustrating, honestly, because I thought this was going to be the book that gave me what I wanted out of this series. And in a lot of ways it did. Given, the problems I had with the first book were still there, considering most of my issue was with the main character. Etta did still annoy me, even if I thought she was far better here, but for most of the novel there was enough awesomeness to make up for her.

Perhaps that’s partially because, in a lot of ways, this felt more like Nicholas’ book to me; Etta certainly has her own journey, but most of the memorable emotional beats revolve around what Nicholas and the people traveling with him are doing.

And that makes me far more tolerant of this novel. A focus more on Nicholas apparently means a loosening up of the hard-set, black and white view that permeated the first book. This isn’t exactly a case of moral relativism, but even in Passenger Nicholas was the more forgiving presence.

That was part of why I was excited for the sequel in the first place. When, at the end of the first book he met up with Sophia again, I knew I was going to enjoy what was coming. I knew it was going to involve a lot of development for her, as well as probably some of the other characters that had been written off in the first book. And adding a major part for a trained traveler was probably going to give me some of the deepening of this world that I’d been wanting.

And for those things Wayfarer delivered in spades. No only did we get the bickering road trip through time that I was expecting from Nicholas and Sophia, we got a growing, mutual respect that I completely wasn’t, but am entirely happy about. Sophia gets more sympathy and gets to be more heroic than I could have ever hoped for coming out of Passenger; I was absolutely certain, for example, that my pipe dream of badass, eyepatch-wearing Sophia was destined to remain just that, but I got it here, along with a nicely detailed character arc. She even got a love interest!

Like I said, I even liked Etta better than in the first book. Early on here, she meets up with the long missing Julian, and putting her in contrast with his breezy, carefree attitude cuts a lot of what bothered me about her in book one. Her sections now have a sense of humor to them, and just giving her someone to challenge her perspective makes it seem less gratingly like the be all and end all of righteousness. I honestly felt for Etta at some points in this novel, which was something that never happened in the first.

And for the parts that did still grate, well, those bothered me less with the addition of major parts for Sophia, Julian, Rose, and Etta’s father, Henry, as well as the introduction of Li Min. Making the cast an ensemble rather than just Nicholas and Etta far diminished the annoying bits in overall effect.

For the most part, the plot gave me what I wanted, too. We get all the family politics, and traveler backstory, and history and lore that I was looking for. There wasn’t as much along the lines of time-travel mechanics as I would have liked, but I’ll take where the travelers came from and how they developed into the society that they did as a very acceptable substitute.

Bracken’s even upped the ante with a new villain that’s older, crazier, and far more powerful than Ironwood, leading to some great tension and some great twists. Keeping the action quick and exciting was something that Bracken never had a problem with in the first, though, so seeing that continue here was no surprise.

Rose’s backstory also adds some wonderful mystery to the piece, calling into question a lot of what we’d thought was established about this world and story, and that mystery keeps the plot moving at the same blistering pace that the time limit and chase sequences in the first one did.

I was, in fact, happily reading along until the ending.

Those spoiler tags are up there for a reason, and that’s because it’s very hard to talk about my reaction to this novel without mentioning the ending. And by that I mean this would have been almost perfect if the ending hadn’t been far, far too easy.

Look, so much of the first novel was Etta coming to accept that, even with time travel powers, she couldn’t change the bad things that happened in the past. That was most of her journey, but now I’m supposed to accept it when I’m told that “Oh yeah, the original timeline was so much better! Millions more people survived and several wars never even happened!”?

That’s, cheap. That’s handing your character a perfect ending without any concern for earning it.

It’s even more galling that I’m supposed to believe this from a guy whose initial portrayal is as ruthless and cunning, and who is clearly telling Etta everything she wants to hear. Who we’re explicitly told at one point not to trust. And I’m supposed to just accept it when, at the end, he’s completely good and doing the right thing? Everything about the build here was telling me that Henry was manipulating her, but then at the end he’s just…not.

I’ll be fair here: this is mostly because it was very rushed. Loose ends are tied up too tidily so that the book doesn’t end up being nine hundred pages long. Ironwood gets taken out completely anticlimactically so that the novel has room to actually focus on taking out the new villain, whom we don’t get that much more from. Etta gets her happy family and her reunion with Nicholas with almost no struggle just because the book needs to end.

If the stuff with Henry had more room to grow and develop, this might have felt like less of a cop out. Specifically, we needed more time to see that he was doing good, without the specter of his potential evil over it. Or we needed more room in general, because there’s something so off about this ending.

It feels like this had the setup for at least another book, with Henry playing Etta in this one and coming in at the end as a third force working against our heroes. I don’t know if that is the case, and the rest of the series was nixed at some point, or if Bracken just wrote in some things that she never meant to pick back up. Either way, even getting most of what I wanted, I’m once again left wanting more.

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