Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

"...There is the journey you make through the world -- the one that aches and sings. We come together with others to make our way and survive its trials, she said. 'But we are, all of us, also wayfarers on a greater journey, this one without end, each of us searching for the answers to the unspoken questions of our hearts. Take comfort, as I have, in knowing that, while we must travel it alone, this journey rewards goodness, and will prove that the things which are denied to us in life will never create a cage for our souls."
Wayfarer is the sequel to Bracken's fantasy novel, Passenger about time traveling families in search of a mysterious and powerful astrolabe.

Wayfarer continues the storyline at the end of the first novel. In Passenger, Etta Spencer, who has the unique ability to time travel, is sent on a quest to find the last remaining astrolabe, a device capable of creating time passages. She has been forced on this journey by the Grand Master of the travellers, Cyrus Ironwood. At the conclusion of Passenger, Etta and Sophia locate the missing astrolabe, but it is stolen from them by the Thorns and Sophia. Changes to the timeline cause Etta to disappear before Nicholas's very eyes, and Sophia is later discovered badly injured, the astrolabe missing.

Wayfarer opens with a prologue dated London, 1932. In this time Rose Linden witnesses the gruesome murder of her parents while hidden in a secret cupboard. The story then jumps to 1905 Texas and 1776 Nassau. Etta has been flung briefly to 1905 Texas and awakens in the desert where she is discovered and taken to 1906 San Francisco.Etta awakens to discover herself in a locked bedroom, recovering from her injuries sustained in her fight with the Thorns. She believes that the timeline has changed and she has been orphaned by her time. Her future gone. She has been snatched back "through a series of passages to wherever the last common point was between the old timeline and the new one they had inadvertently created." Etta has no idea how this has come about but believes that the Thorns have used the astrolabe, causing the changes. Desperate to escape she climbs out the window onto scaffolding but when it collapses, she is rescued by Julian Ironwood. She is astonished that Julian is alive because everyone believes he fell to his death on the path leading up to the monastery Taktsand Palphug.

Julian tells Etta that it is October 12, 1906 and they are in San Francisco.  Etta learns that she is with the Thorns and in the home of Henry Hemlock who reveals he is her father. Henry tells her he was with her in the future when she was taken by Cyrus Ironwood but was not involved in Alice's murder and that her mother easily escaped from the Ironwoods. Henry explains that Etta quest has been set up by her mother Rose and is based on delusions. Rose claimed to have been visited by a traveler from the future who told her there would be a war between the families. Rose became obsessed with restoring the timeline. When she obtained the astrolabe, she hid it rather than destroy it because that would cause a change back to the original timeline and close the passages permanently. Henry believes that Rose manipulated Etta so events could play out the way she thought they should.

To show Etta how Cyrus Ironwood as changed the course of time, Henry takes her on a walk through 1906 San Francisco. Etta notices that there is very little devastation in the city and it has not been destroyed by fire after the earthquake. Henry explains that they are in the original timeline. In the timeline that Etta grew up in, San Francisco was destroyed by a fire following the earthquake. This happened because Cyrus Ironwood altered events during the Russo-Japanese war resulting in reforms in Russia and changing that country's history.  This resulted in further changes that affected events even in San Francisco. They are back in the original timeline because Henry's men who stole the astrolabe from Etta have changed the timeline back to the original. The future Etta experienced no longer exists. Henry explains that they have worked to identify "potential linchpin moments in history" and the Russo-Japanese war was one, meaning that the future was altered from 1905 onward. Henry reveals to Etta that his men were followed by Ironwood's men. One was killed and the other is hiding in Russia with the astrolabe. Henry plans to travel to Russia to retrieve the astrolabe and destroy it before Ironwood.

Etta, Henry, Julian and Winnifred travel to 1919 Russia where Etta discovers Henry is good friends with Tsar Nicholas who knows of their ability to time travel. They find Petrograd in an uproar and Henry's man Kadir has not yet been located with the astrolabe. While the others search the massive Winter Palace, Henry, Etta and Winnifred have dinner with the Tsar. Etta learns that Henry has been guiding the Romanov family for generations and that his interference has resulted in Russia not becoming involved in World War I. However Henry tells Etta that the Tsar will still die as it is inevitable in any timeline but his family will survive. The dinner comes to a violent end when a bomb is set off at the table, severely injuring Henry. Etta is rescued by Julian who tells her that Kadir has been found dead and the astrolabe gone. They make their way out of the palace as it is stormed by the revolutionaries. Etta believes Cyrus Ironwood's agents are attempting to return the time line back to his version.

Etta and Julian manage to escape from Russia and find themselves in 1939 New York City which is utterly devastated. They are picked up by a patrol and taken to a field hospital where they encounter Julian's nanny, Octavia Ironwood who is badly injured. She tells Julian that Cyrus Ironwood is time travelling again and that he has come for the gold stored in a vault. There is to be an auction and the gold is required for the buy-in. Julian believes the Belladonna has somehow come into possession of the astrolabe. The bidding will be done by "submitting offers of secrets and favors."Octavia warns them about the Shadows who are murdering travellers and guardians. Etta and Julian need to locate sufficient gold for the buy-in and once at the auction they need to get the astrolabe and destroy it.

Meanwhile Nicholas and Sophia travel to the Three Crowns Tavern to meet up with Rose Linden. Sophia now wears an eye-patch after losing her left eye because of the beating in Palmyra. While Sophia was recovering in Palmyra, Nicholas received a note from Rose indicating that they had to meet on October 13th or not at all. Nicholas is aware that Sophia has not given up on taking the astrolabe, but he needs her to help him navigate the passages. Rose doesn't show but Sophia and Nicholas notice a man with the Linden sigil on his glove in the corner of the tavern. He gives them a folded sheet of parchment with the Linden seal and tells them that Rose had other business to deal with. As Nicholas is questioning the guardian, a diversion is created and the parchment is stolen from their table by a Chinese man. In their attempt to apprehend the man, Sophia fires her pistol setting off a brawl in the tavern. Nicholas and Sophia manage to escape and when they return to their camp by the Thames, they discover the Chinese man stealing from their campsite. Confronting him they discover him to be a woman named Li Min. Li Min refuses to divulge the contents of the note

Nicholas and Sophia travel to 1430 Prague where they encounter a young boy who leads them to a little shop. There they meet up with the Belladonna, an imposing woman who uses dark magic. Sophia tells her they wish to know the date of the last common year so they can locate a friend. The Belladonna agrees to help them in exchange for a favour. Nicholas asks the Belladonna if the Thorns are still in possession of the astrolabe and she replies that according to her last report, yes. However, the Belladonna tricks Sophia and Nicholas. She places a ring on Nicholas's finger and tells him the task she requires is the murder of Cyrus Ironwood before she provides the information they are seeking. This ring will eventually spread a poison through his body killing him unless he completes the Belladonna's task.

Nicholas and Sophia leave the Belladonna and travel through several passages before arriving in 148 B.C. Carthage which is under siege during the Third Punic War. They manage to escape an attack by the Shadows and are aided by Remus Jacaranda who takes them to his house. He tells Nicholas and Sophia that Fitzhugh is making his rounds as a healer. Remus serves them a tea which Nicholas does not drink. Remus knows nothing of the last common year but he does tell them about the history of the astrolabes and their ancestors. When Nicholas realizes that Remus has lied about Fitzhugh, Remus tells him they have sent for the Ironwoods as this is their chance to finally escape their exile in Carthage. Sophia has been poisoned by the hemlock tea, but Nicholas carries her and pursued by Fitzhugh and Miles Ironwood races to the passage. He is helped by the sudden appearance of Li Min and they are transported to 1499 Vatican where they are hunted by the Shadows. The three spend some time hiding in the old tombs beneath the Vatican where Li Min tells them more about her history and the Shadows. She also reveals that Etta Spencer is dead, sending Nicholas into shock but also leading him to confront Cyrus Ironwood in 1776 New York. There Ironwood proposes a new course of action for Nicholas, one that will lead to a life Nicholas Carter could never have dreamed of.

Discussion

Like the first novel,Wayfarer is a complex story that weaves through many settings and even more characters than its predecessor, Passenger. This characteristic makes it a complicated read and difficult at times to keep track of the little details. In Wayfarer, Bracken has her characters travel to an overwhelming number of eras and locations: 1919 Petrograd, 1776 New York, 1776 Nassau, 1905 Texas, 1906 San Francisco, 148 B.C. Carthage, 1100 Reynisfjall Mountain, 1932 London, 1939 New York, 1430 Prague, 1499 Vatican City, 1830 Rio de Janeiro, and 1891 Mount Kurama. Not to mention the time passages that are only mentioned in passing. The plot too becomes more complex as more characters are introduced; the Shadows who serve a mysterious Ancient One who seeks the remaining astrolabe, the Belladonna who is known as the Witch of Prague, Li Min who it turns out is Etta's Aunt Winnifred and the Ancient One seeking to gain control of the remaining astrolabe after it is revealed he has absorbed the power of the other missing astrolabes.

The complex plot can be distilled down to a quest by multiple parties, each with their own agenda, for possession of the remaining astrolabe. It's a quest for ultimate power and the control of time itself. It turns out that this last astrolabe has come into the possession of the Belladonna who holds an auction for it. Everyone shows up and as expected the auction morphs into a deadly fight with completely unexpected results. Unlike Passenger which had a developing romance between Nicholas Carter and Etta Spencer, Wayfarer follows the journeys of two groups; Etta and Julian, and Sophia, Nicholas and Li Min.

Better editing could have distilled this novel down into a cleaner, tighter version of the story. At over 500 pages, the reader has to slog through pages of detail that sometimes overwhelm the storytelling. In the first novel, Passenger, Bracken succeeded in giving her readers the essence of what time travel might be like, but in Wayfarer, these become destinations that Etta, Nicholas and Sophia simply race from one to the next in their quest for the astrolabe. Readers learn some of the backstory to the time traveling families and it's interesting to consider how time travellers might change the outcome of history with what might seem like insignificant interference.

At times, Wayfarer reads like a Tolkien story; there are three four astrolabes with special powers given to each family. Three are lost and only one remains - the master astrolabe which has a unique ability to create timelines. The Shadows are people stolen from their families when they were young , "their humanity ripped from them with bloody training and manipulation." They exist to serve the Ancient One. We are told by Li Min,  "They  are here for one purpose alone:  to serve him. To find what he seeks  above all else." The Shadows wear loosely flowing black robes with hoods that shield their faces and carry a curved blade.  It sounds remarkably like Sauron and the Nazgul or Ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings. As it turns out, the astrolabe if found by the Ancient One will make him immortal (not unlike Sauron).

Readers who enjoy a complex fantasy story will enjoy Wayfarer. Bracken keeps her readers guessing about where the story will go and that alone makes Wayfarer an engaging tale. Bracken ties together all the loose ends and provides a satisfying ending to her story, one that suggests hope and healing for the future. A fitting conclusion to this fantasy duology.

Book Details:

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
New York: Hyperion        2017
532 pp.

No comments: