I received this book for free from Random House Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers on February 27th, 2018
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, YA
Source: Random House Books for Young Readers
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In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can't make a scene at your sister's wedding and break a relative's nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.
Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it's a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl--a subspecies of dragon--who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she's tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.
Tess of the Road is not an easy book to read. At 544 pages it is long and those pages don’t fly by. In the traditional sense at least. Here is the thing about Tess though, it is a long book, it is winded and yet, I wouldn’t really have it any other way. The slowness can at times be exhausting but the book isn’t really about a big adventure that Tess takes. It’s about Tess’s character arc and her trauma. This book would NOT work if it was a speedy read you could flip through. It is a painful read but there is so //much// that Tess has internalized that it makes no sense if we could uncover her and her experience in a mere handful pages.
Tess is not a ‘nice’ girl. She has always been seen as the bad influence, the untamed child, the forgettable twin. Always in the shadow of her twin sister and older sister, she no longer knows who Tess is or ever was. On a whim, and maybe to prove a point, she runs away from home. She encounters an old friend, Pathka, and together they journey to find a mythological serpent.
Words are so hard to use for a story that is so full of layers, each one unfurling the more you read. At its heart, Tess of the Road is a deeply feminist story. It examines rape culture in our society, mother-child relationships and the bonds between sisters. And it does all of these things in ways that not only break your fucking heart, but also heal it. There are many a time when I couldn’t help but tear up the more and more we saw how much damage had been done to her by those she should have been able to trust and count on.
Tess isn’t an easy character to like and you know what, there is nothing wrong with her being unlikeable. It is hard if you’re a huge Seraphina fan like moi and spend the first quarter of the book absolutely home-sick for her and the OG squad and yet, by the end, I found myself head over heels in love with Tess and her story. To the point where I wondered if perhaps I liked her even better than Sera? Tess is so nuanced in a way I don’t think Sera was and I can see just how much Hartman has grown as a writer since she first introduced us to Goredd.
The reason why it still isn’t a 5 star read for me (which Sera was and will be if I re-read) is because we’re thrown into a world that readers are expected to pick on right away or be familiar with from Seraphina. Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t read Seraphina, you won’t inherently be at a disadvantage. Hartman is particularly fond of throwing readers into the midst of the world. But, I still struggled for a bit, trying to get used to the world and to take it in all in so I could enjoy the journey I was being taken on.
So should you read Seraphina? Yes if you’re into good character development because that’s what this book IS. If you’re looking for a breath-taking adventure (much like I usually am), you might not enjoy Tess on the Road as much but I’d still wanna shove it at you because I am 99.9% sure the sequel (and there better be a sequel) is going to give us the show-stopping adventure we deserve.
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