The 'Passenger' author teases her new book ahead of its 2017 release
Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger only came out in January, but fans are already eager to find out what happens to violin prodigy Etta in the sequel, Wayfarer. Well, folks, this is your lucky day: Not only do we have an exclusive cover reveal and excerpt of Wayfarer in advance of its 2017 release, but Bracken herself took time out of her U.K. tour to answer a few questions for us about the series.
Check everything out below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about the plot of Wayfarer?
ALEXANDRA BRACKEN: Let’s see if I can do this without spoiling the ending of Passenger… There are two separate, parallel journeys happening across the centuries, both focused on the same thing: tracking down the astrolabe, the powerful object that creates the time passages, which is in the wind again. But there are tavern brawls! Catacombs! A dark, mysterious group who have no problem with killing anyone who stands in their way! A deadly auction! Alchemy! Pirate gold! Alternate history! So, basically, a little bit of everything.
I really love the way Wayfarer opens up the world of the time travelers; Passenger, by necessity, needed to do a lot of the legwork in setting up the rules of their world, and now I get to introduce readers to the different family factions and competing endgames. Etta’s mission — to destroy the astrolabe — seemed so straight forward by the end of Passenger, but things get rather complicated and gray as she begins to question who actually has the right to decide what the timeline looks like, and if her future (which happens to be the future we know) deserves to exist more than any other version of it.
What are you most excited for readers to see?
I’m excited for readers to see the awful, shattering consequences that meddling in time (and using the astrolabe!) can bring about. The alternate timeline the characters face in Wayfarer is an absolute doozy, which was somehow both really fun and really frightening to write.
What’s the biggest question fans have been asking you about this sequel?
I get so many questions about Etta’s mother, Rose, and why she is the way she is. This totally delights me because she’s such a complicated, thorny character and she endlessly fascinates me. I mean, the lady isn’t about to win any Best Mom in the World awards, but she’s dealt with some serious darkness in her life and the only way she could survive it was to sharpen her edges to protect herself. Both readers and Etta will get to know her quite a bit better throughout Wayfarer. I think she even has one of my favorite lines in the whole book!
Can you tease any new characters we’ll meet?
Of course! One of the joys of Wayfarer is that I got to expand the cast as I delved deeper into the world of the travelers. The exclusive chapter here on EW reveals one of the new characters, actually, and said character has an incredible way of shaking up what Etta thinks she knows about time and what she wants out of her life. Another new character is one previously believed to be dead, who is a total playboy, devil-may-care type. My favorite new addition, though, has to be Li Min—she’s a traveler who works all sides of the war between the travelers as a mercenary and is an absolute firecracker.
What was the hardest part of writing Wayfarer?
The hardest part of writing this series is always trying to track and nail down the different time travel rules and paradoxes. I ended up creating a “Time Traveler’s Guide for Not Dying in An Awful Way” for myself to keep everything straight, but still managed to slip up a few times with the rules. It tends to mean pulling out a plot thread and starting over, which can be incredibly time consuming.
What’s been the most fun part?
The new characters have really created a fun, lively dynamic. I think both Etta and Nicholas would argue they get the best, and most, work done together when they’re functioning as a team of two, but the group they assemble as they search for the astrolabe really challenges them in a fun way. (If you’ve read The Darkest Minds series, you know I love a complex group dynamic!) My editor described Nicholas as being “The Mad Max of the 18th Century” in this book, which is pretty dead-on! Etta finds herself tested by these big, sweeping morality questions as she’s partnered up on her story arc with a character who believes morality is kind of a bore.
What’s your favorite story so far from your book tour? What have the fans been like?
My book tour this past January was incredible! Some of my favorite moments were chatting with readers who made epic journeys of their own through all sorts of weather conditions to have their books signed. Hamilton came up at every single event, and I got to tell everyone about my weird, moderately creepy quest to visit the graves of important founding fathers (okay, fine, it’s actually very creepy).
In all seriousness, I was lucky enough to spend the first half touring with my good friend, Susan Dennard (author of Truthwitch!), and we were together when we found out that both of our books debuted on the New York Times list. (Susan couldn’t stop pacing the room and I had to lie down on the floor because it felt like I lost all feeling in my body. Seriously.)
But the story that always seems to get the most play comes from the second, solo half of the tour. I’d had really, really good luck with the weather despite it being January, right up until when I was supposed to fly out of Nashville to Denver. Well, the morning I was supposed to leave, that enormous, “historic” blizzard decided to give Nashville it’s worst. I stood in the security line at the airport watching as the flights got cancelled one by one… but mine was still standing. Even my more publicist’s flight got cancelled, and he was stuck in Nashville for a good four days afterwards. At one point, they did cancel my flight… only to announce three minutes later that, no, never mind, it was live and we were going just as soon as our diverted plane came in. It was just the oddest thing to be on one of two flights that actually flew out mid-blizzard.
Except from Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
Etta choked on her scream, but her arm was caught, yanked again in its socket as two hands closed around her wrist and dragged her toward the rough, pale exterior of the house. Her cheek slammed against the stone, and she squeezed her eyes shut as the scaffolding began to shudder, an unsteady section folding in on itself and pouring down to the old-fashioned cars parked on the street below.
“Reach up, will you?” the young man said. Etta shook her head. Her wounded shoulder was too stiff, and the whole length of it, from neck to fingertip, felt like it had been filled with scorching, sunbaked sand.
Instead, he released her wrist with one hand and reached down to grab her nightgown. There was a loud grunt overhead as he heaved her up. Etta’s feet scrabbled against the wall. She didn’t breathe again until her elbows were braced on the windowsill. Then she was spilling through it, onto the young man and the carpet below.
She rolled off him as soon as she landed. Her whole body sang with pain and adrenaline, and it was several long moments
before her heart steadied enough for Etta to hear anything over its frantic rhythm.
“Well, that was exciting. I’ve always wanted to rescue a damsel in distress, and you’ve given me twice the fun on that front.”
Etta cracked open an eye, turning her head toward the voice. Next to her, propped up on his elbow, the young man was making an appraising, appreciative study of her. She pushed herself upright again and scooted back against the desk to put some much-needed distance between them.
She had time now, and enough light, to get a better look at him. He was young—her age, or a few years older, with short dark hair that warmed with reddish undertones in the light. It was mussed to the point of standing on end, and Etta had the horrifying realization that she really had gripped it for leverage as she came tumbling back into the house. He looked as if he’d jumped straight out of bed; his loose trousers were rumpled, and his soft white shirt was open at the collar and worn inside out. He scratched at the shadow of scruff along his jaw, studying her with piercing light blue eyes that warmed with some unspoken joke.
His voice . . . Those eyes.
Etta took a step back, her path blocked by the desk. He’d claimed they were with the Thorns, which could only be true if he’d defected from Cyrus Ironwood’s ranks and joined theirs. That would make him a prisoner, same as her.
Or it would make him a liar. But if this was the truth, then . . . Etta was exactly where she needed to be.
With the people who had stolen the astrolabe from her.
“I suppose you gave me a bit of a fright, I can be man enough to admit that—”
“Where am I?” she asked, interrupting him.
He seemed startled by her ability to speak, but he stood and retrieved a glass of some amber liquid from a corner table for her. “You sound as terrible as you look, kiddo. Have a sip.”
She stared at it.
“Oh, you’re no fun,” he said with a little pout. “I suppose you’ll want water instead. Wait here and be quiet—can’t raise the alarm just yet, can we?”
Etta wasn’t sure what that meant, but she complied all the same, watching as the young man walked to the door and stuck his head out into the hall.
“You, there—yes, you—bring me a glass of water. And don’t bloody well spit in it this time—you honestly think I’m not well-versed enough in that fine art to notice?”
The response was immediate and irritated. “I’m not your damned servant.”
So there are guards after all. The only question was whether they were protecting him or protecting themselves from him.
“I do believe the official decree from your master and commander was, ‘Give the dear boy what he wants.’ This dear boy wants water. And make it snappy. Pep in your step and all that. Thanks, old chum.”
Etta’s lip curled back. Definitely an Ironwood. And, by the sound of it, definitely working with the Thorns.
“I’m not your—” The young man shut the door on the response and leaned back against it with a pleased little smirk.
“They’re such a serious bunch that it’s all too easy to rile them up,” he whispered to her with a wink. “You and I will have the best fun together now that you’re here.”
She glared back. Unlikely.
After a moment the door popped open behind him and a hand thrust itself in with a glass of cloudy-looking water. The instant the young man took it, the door was slammed shut, and, this time, she heard the lock click from the outside.
“You use your old bathwater?” the young man shouted through the wood.
“You’d be so lucky!” came the reply.
He was still muttering as he crossed the room again and handed it to her. “Sorry, the water situation is none-too-good after the earthquake, as you can imagine. No one’s gotten sick from it.” And then, after she’d already taken a sip, adding, “Yet.”
The water did have an odd taste to it—a little metallic, maybe, a little dirty, too—but she downed the rest of it in two quick gulps. Her hands and arms were still trembling as they tried to recover from the strain.
“Where am I?” she demanded. “When?”
“San Francisco,” he said. “October 12, 1906. You’ve been out a number of days . . .”
Etta’s heels seemed to sink further into the rug, as the weight of his words slammed into her. Thirteen days. She’d lost thirteen days. Nicholas could be anywhere. Sophia could be anywhere. And the astrolabe . . .
“You might remember, but we were briefly acquainted in the middle of the Texas desert, just after you were spat out by a passage.”
“Are you looking for a thank-you?” Etta asked.
“Don’t I deserve one? You were a few minutes away from becoming a coyote’s dinner. You’re lucky we were orphaned through the same passage, otherwise the boss man would be lowering your tattered remains into the ground.”
That confirmed her suspicion, at least. Some change must have been made to the timeline that orphaned all the travelers born after that time, including this insufferable Ironwood. Etta closed her eyes. Took a steadying breath through her nose.
“What changed—oh, you mean the timeline? The dimwits running this joint are still putting it all together, which is why we’re still stuck here, in beautiful, scenic post-earthquake San Francisco. Stay with these people long enough, and, believe me, they’ll show you the armpit of every century.”
“You haven’t even tried asking them, have you?” Etta asked, unimpressed.
“Frankly, I’d rather not know, if it’s all the same to you. It’s been . . . odd, to say the least, feeling all these tremors in the timeline. Knowing things are shifting in small ways, and—in the case of that wonderful orphaning detour—big ones. There are only two parties with enough money or clout to pull it all off: the one you’re with now and Ironwood himself. And if it’s the latter . . . well, then, it’s time to leave this party and head for the hills.”
The rest of Etta’s thoughts came to a sudden halt. “What year?”
His look was lightly scolding. “1906.”
She swallowed her noise of irritation. “No, I mean, what year was it in Texas?”
“I’m not entirely sure I should say—”
Etta lunged forward, barely catching the words burning the tip of her tongue before they had the chance to singe him.
“Oh ho—” He stood and backed away from her. “You’ve got that wild look in your eyes like you did just before you bopped me
in the nose. Believe me, they’ve removed everything that can be used as a weapon.”
Etta looked down at the glass in her hand, then back at him, one brow arching. “I’ve gotten pretty creative over the past few weeks. I think I can handle one minor Ironwood.”
“Minor?” he shot back, his voice wavering between incredulity and outrage. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“No. You were so busy congratulating yourself you never got around to introducing yourself,” Etta said. “Though I take it you know who I am?”
“Everyone knows who you are now,” he muttered, sounding annoyed. “How far I’ve fallen that I actually have to introduce myself.”
He placed one arm at his back and the other across his waist, giving her a mocking little bow. “Julian Ironwood, at your service.”
Her disbelief must have been splashed across her face, because his smile shifted, becoming sardonic. Clearly not the reaction he had been expecting.
Julian Ironwood? She let out a small, lifeless laugh. Time travel had already presented a number of brain-bending possibilities— meeting the violin instructor she’d known from the moment she was born as an eighteen-year-old, to name only one. But, surprise, it wasn’t any easier to come face-to-face with the dead, even with some experience. Etta wasn’t entirely sure what she should be doing with her face, but staring at him in horror was probably going to raise some flags in his mind.
Nicholas had warned her repeatedly of the dangers of telling anyone their fate, that knowing how and when they die could
affect the choices that person made and, potentially, the timeline. Alice had given her an out, had specifically asked her not to say, but now . . . The guilt felt familiar as it pooled in her heart. Etta bit her lip. It was just . . . what were the chances of meeting Nicholas’s brother, and here, of all places?
Why hadn’t Nicholas mentioned that his brother had been held at some point by the Thorns? He didn’t look all that young, either. . . .
“Either my adorably sadistic grandfather has done something terrible to you, or you’re about to inform me that I’ve died by— rather stupidly, if I say so myself—falling off a mountain,” he said. “Those seem to be the only two reactions I get these days.”
“You—” Etta sputtered, whirling back around. “I didn’t mean to—it’s just—”
“Calm down, will you? I won’t report you to the time-travel police,” he said. “Besides, as you can see, I am decidedly not dead.”
“Wait . . .” she began, coming closer to better study his face. She could see it now, of course. His eyes were the same icy shade of blue as Cyrus, and she could detect, under the scruff and grin, the same high cheekbones and long, straight nose that had been tempered on the old man’s face by age. He seemed to also have the Ironwood affinity for grappling for control of every conversation, no matter how short.
“You’re alive,” Etta finally managed to get out. “You . . . you didn’t die after all?”
He grinned, clearly enjoying this conversation now, and motioned down over his body. “Still in one piece. The luck of the devil, as old Grandpops used to say. Rather odd, that, considering he is the devil—”
“What happened?” she interrupted.
He gave her an infuriating grin. “Tell me what you think happened.”
Etta, with patience she had no idea she possessed, managed to tamp down on her temper long enough to say, “There was a storm. . . . You slipped on the path leading up to the monastery, Paro Taktsang—”
“Did Grandpops really give the world that much detail?” Julian asked, flattening his hair with his hand. “He’s usually so quick to defend the family’s honor, but I guess even he couldn’t resist making me sound like a right idiot.”
There was a sharp undercurrent to the words that seemed at odds with his jocular tone. Etta studied him again—the slouching posture, the unkempt clothes, the glint in his eyes she’d originally took as mischief—and wondered how much of a show he was putting on.
“I thought he would have. . .” He kept pacing, but this time turned his eyes to the floor. “Did he . . . I never heard anything about a memorial or the like . . . ?”
Etta’s brows rose. “I don’t know. I’m assuming.”
“It’s not that it matters to me,” he said, quickly, “but it’s sort of . . . anticlimactic to disappear into a puff of snow and mist. A guy wants to know that—you know, actually, it doesn’t matter. None of it really matters.”
“Stop—stop pacing, you’re making me nervous,” Etta said. “Can you stand still for one second and actually explain this to me?”
He popped himself up onto the corner of the grand desk, folding his hands in his lap. Within seconds, his bare feet were swinging, drumming against the leg of it, and Etta realized she’d
asked for the impossible. Not only did he not shut up, he couldn’t seem to burn off enough energy to stop moving.
“The Thorns were responsible for orphaning me in that instance,” Julian said, finally. “Three years ago, they used a passage to New York in 1940 to set a fire at New York’s World’s Fair, hitting at Grandfather’s business interests in that period—at the same time I happened to be stupidly falling down a mountainside in Bhutan. Since I was born in 1941, I was kicked through the passages to 1939, which was, at that point—”
“The last common year between the old timeline and the new one,” Etta finished. She thought her brain might explode between tracking the timeline, the collection of years at the mercy of the travelers’ actions, and each traveler’s personal life that they lived straight through, even when they were jumping between centuries. “But I was born after 1940, too, and I wasn’t orphaned when that change occurred.”
“Whenever—wherever—your present self was at the time I was orphaned, there must not have been a passage—time must have had no way to eject you to the last common year, since it wasn’t linked to the other passages.” Julian lifted a shoulder. “It’s rare, but it happens.”
That did actually make sense. Etta’s mother had only just created the passage in what had been her present-day New York— three years after Julian had been orphaned in Bhutan. There would have been no way for her to have been thrown back in time when that change had occurred.
“At least that time I got spat out of the passages in the Maldives, which made for quite the vacation. But by the time I located the necessary passages and resurfaced, I caught news of my supposed death and decided I might as well make the most of it.”
Etta didn’t think her head could process any more of this. “And it never occurred to you once—once—over the past few years that you might, you know, tell someone that you were alive?”
Not Nicholas? Not Sophia? Not any other member of his family?
Julian shrugged, scooting off the desk. He moved to the bookshelves, pausing only a second to examine the books there before continuing on, dragging his fingers along the edge of the shelves as he made his way around the room. It was like watching a cat pace. But where Nicholas moved in assured, long strides, even when he was uncertain of where he was going, Julian had a kind of agitated undercurrent to his movements. He didn’t have all of Nicholas’s height, either, and his body hadn’t been honed or chaffed by the hard work of life on a ship. When Etta tried to detect some sort of similarity between them—even the barest trace in Julian’s face, his words, his demeanor—she had a hard time believing the two of them could be related by blood at all.
The more she thought of Nicholas, in fact, the harder it became to quell the anger stirring up again in her heart. If this really was Julian Ironwood, then it was the very same person who had taken advantage of Nicholas’s love for him, the one who’d turned around and treated him like little more than a servant, rather than genuinely trying to teach him the ways of travelers.
I’m the fool, Nicholas had told her, because in spite of everything, he was my brother. I never saw him as anything else. And it clearly wasn’t the same for him.
Clearly. Julian didn’t even have the common decency to find a way to tell his half-brother he was still alive, and, instead, had let him drown in his guilt. He had let Nicholas spend years questioning his honor and decency.
All of this time, Nicholas had been suffering—and for what?
Julian made his lap around the room, humming out some faint tune. Every second that ticked by on the grandfather clock tucked into the corner was a second that made more and more red bleed into her vision.
“Well, kiddo, to continue this tale, I floated around for a while, living life as one does—without much money to speak of, which got me into more than a few scrapes. It all became rather tedious and boring. Enter: the Thorns. I thought it might be best to sell some knowledge about Grandfather, try to exchange it for a safe place to sleep at night and steady meals. But nothing is safe or steady about this group.”
He glanced at her, as if expecting Etta to coo with sympathy. She kept her gaze on the unlit brass chandelier overhead, fingers curled so tightly around the lip of the desk that her hands prickled with pain. Don’t do it. He’s not worth it.
“Speaking of,” Julian said, swinging around to walk back toward her, “I’d like to get back to you—holy God!”
Etta relished the throbbing pain in her knuckles as her fist made contact with his cheek and he stumbled back over his own feet, landing in an ungraceful heap on his bottom. He stared up at her with huge eyes, one hand still cupping the red mark on his face as she shook out her hand.
“What the bloody hell was that for?” he howled.
“Do you have any idea,” she said, voice rising with each and every word, “what your ‘death’ did to your brother? Do you have any idea what he went through—what your jackass of a grandfather put him through?”
“Brother?” Julian repeated, rather stupidly. Her instinct to
give him another kick, this time beneath the belt, must have registered on her face, because Julian scrambled back on the rug.
To her surprise, he said, “But . . . how do you know Nick?”
Etta studied him. He looked genuinely shocked, either from her hit, Nicholas’s name, or both.
A key scraped in the door’s lock, and it should have been enough to send Etta diving behind the desk, out of sight. Instead, she stood there, towering over Julian, the door letting out a tortured groan as it was thrown open. Two men, both dressed in trousers, plain white shirts, and waistcoats barreled in, guns in hand, coming up short at the sight of her. The one out in front, a dark, bushy mustache disguising half of his face, actually took a generous step back, crossing himself.
“Christ,” said the other one, glancing at the first. He was somewhat shorter, his pale hair cut close to the scalp and nearly gone from balding. “The others were right. It’s the bleeding ghost of Rose Linden.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be protecting me?” Julian complained. “This girl is clearly deranged—”
“Deranged is one word for it,” the dark-haired man said; Etta finally recognized his voice at the one who had sparred with Julian earlier over the water. “How in the hell did you get in here, miss?”
“I think the better question is, why did it take you almost a half hour to realize I was in here?” Etta asked, reaching back for the water glass she’d left on the desk. Before either man could answer, she slammed it down over the edge of the desk, shattering its top half and leaving a jagged rip on what was left. For one insane instant, Sophia’s lesson on where to cut them, how to slit their throats, floated to the front of her mind.
Get a grip, Etta. She needed to stay here and find the astrolabe, and she wouldn’t be able to do that if she were locked away. But she couldn’t ignore the part of her that hated that these people had seen her at her weakest, her most vulnerable. They needed to know she would fight back if they pushed her to it.
“Easy, there!” Julian cried. He craned his neck up to look at the men. “Aren’t you going to do something?”
The pale-haired man raised his small black pistol, then swore, tucking it back into the waistband of his trousers. “Come along, girlie, it’s time for you to go back up to your room.”
Etta swung her makeshift weapon toward him, ignoring the small, warm pool of blood collecting in her palm from where she’d cut herself. “I don’t think so.”
Dull footsteps grew into a pounding storm out in the hallway. She caught snatches of voices shouting, “She’s gone!” and “Find her!” and a variety of swearing that would have made even the men in Nicholas’s crew blush.
“She’s here!” the dark-haired man called. “The office!”
The rush of panicked activity outside immediately ceased, but one voice rang out. “Thank you, that’ll be all the excitement for this evening. God willing.”
At the sound of the door opening, the two guards straightened—the smaller of the two immediately reached up to fix the limp cloth hanging around his neck into something resembling a bow tie. A man strode in, hand tucked into his trouser pockets.
“We were handling the situation, sir,” the dark-haired one said quickly. “I was about to return the girl to her quarters.”
“I see,” came the amused response. “But it seems to me that she’s the one who has this situation well in hand.”
The men stepped out of the darkness and into the shallow firelight, giving Etta her first real glimpse of him. Dark eyes swept around the room, studying each of them in turn behind silver-rimmed glasses that seemed too modern for the early twentieth century. His gaze lingered on her, so unflinching that it seemed to wipe everyone else away, leaving just the two of them.
The man’s presence made her blood slow, and finally still in her veins, but the trickle of uneasiness she’d felt at his appearance was nothing compared to the torrent that came in the moment where her memory met realization. Etta wasn’t aware of the fact the glass had slipped from between her fingers until it fell and struck the top of her bare feet and rolled away.
The black hair, cut through with silver strands . . . his rough-hewn features . . . she wasn’t seeing him in the trim, immaculate gray tweed suit, wasn’t seeing the emerald silk necktie tucked neatly into the buttoned-up waistcoat. She saw him in the classic black-and-white tuxedo, in the Grand Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the twenty-first century.
“You recognize me,” he said, with a small, approving note in his voice—like he’d expected less?
Not only had she bumped into him, he’d come running when she and Sophia had found Alice dying in a pool of her own blood. Almost as if he’d known it might happen.
Or he’d been the one to pull the trigger.
The two guards immediately stepped closer to the man’s side, as though they’d been drawn into his orbit.
He looked to Julian, and said, this time with a slight edge, “How did I know to check this room first?”
“She dropped in on me,” Julian protested, pointing to the window. “I was minding my own business. For once.”
The man flicked his dark gaze onto Etta, and this time, she forced herself to meet it. The corners of his mouth tipped up again. “I don’t need to ask how you got in here, for I suspect the mountain of scaffolding piled up outside is likely my answer. Tell me, did it ever occur to you that you could have broken your neck?”
He was so calm, his voice measured to the point of making the rest of them sound manic. Even his posture, the way he hadn’t once tensed, made her instantly want to ruffle him, just to see how far he could be pushed. Where the boundaries of his anger began. It would be useful, later, she thought, in trying to trick him into saying something about the astrolabe, and where they might be keeping it.
“You know,” Etta said, “you’re making me wish I had.”
She wiped her slick palm against the horrible nightgown, disarmed by the man’s laughter, the spark of enjoyment in his voice. He turned to the bald guard. “I told you she had some fight in her, didn’t I?”
“You did,” the guard confirmed, gruffly. “Sir, I take full responsibility for all of this—”
“Sir” waved his hand dismissively before placing it on the guard’s shoulder. “Have Winifred dress her and bring her to me once she’s comfortable and presentable, will you?”
“Yes, of course, sir,” the guard said, nearly sagging with relief.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Etta said, taking a step forward. “I don’t even know who you are—what right do you have to order me around?”
The man had already begun to turn toward the door, but at her words, his shoulders stiffened. He glanced back over his shoulder, but the candlelight flared in his glasses, masking his expression. Julian coughed, either to hide a laugh or his discomfort.
“My name is Henry Hemlock, and you’re here at my mercy,” the man said. “And you will do as I say, because I am your father and we have much to discuss.”