Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

February 16, 2018 Book Review, Young Adult 9 ★★

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tess of the RoadTess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House on February 27th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
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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.

I cannot get over how absolutely beautiful this cover is! It immediately grabbed my attention, especially since I’m into all things dragons, and Tess of the Road sounded like something different than what I’m used to. And where I did indeed find some unique storytelling within the pages, I didn’t fall in love quite as much as I hoped heading in.

The story is set in a medieval time period, so the world has an archaic view on women and their roles on society. Tess is being raised by a mother who is extremely devout in her faith and those beliefs, even a little bit of a fanatic when it comes to her daughters. Tess is a dreamer. She’s curious about life and perhaps even a little rebellious. She’s in love with stories about adventure, especially the pirate tales of one Dozerius. She didn’t fit the nice package of what her mother expected of her so she was often punished. When we first meet Tess she seems to be struggling with some inner demons from events that occurred earlier in her life. She acts out and drinks a lot with some embarrassing consequences, eventually leading her to run away and start her journey on the road.

What I liked most about this story was in fact Tess. She goes on this remarkable journey, to where I wasn’t always sure but I don’t think it was really a matter of where but more so a personal journey. She chose to cut off her hair and travel as a boy for many reasons. It was a matter of safety at first, her mother’s words about men amplifying her own fear. But it was also about wanting to be someone else and be taken more seriously. She meets up with an old friend, a peculiar creature known as a quigutl, and together they travel to find the mythical World Serpents. She meets all sorts of people along the way, helps those in need and picks up odd jobs to get by when need be. And she develops this purpose in life. All of these events help Tess become stronger and come to terms with her past as the details unravel to us the readers. She is not without flaws in the least but I truly felt for this girl and admired her personal journey and growth.

Where the story got away from me was that once Tess got on the road the pace slowed way down. Though the people she meets and the circumstances she finds herself in help build up her character, they dragged at the same time. I kept waiting for something truly exciting to happen and it never did. The story is strange at times and I didn’t expected that. I think it’s mostly the quigutl creatures/characters that were equal parts fascinating as they were bizarre and I don’t know that I ever really got on board with them. The world building was a little hard to follow as well. This may be better for those who have previously read Seraphina as it takes place in the same world. It’s not necessary to read first and I got along okay without doing so, but perhaps if I were more acquainted with the world beforehand it would have flowed better for me. I truly admire the complexity in crafting such a unique world I just wished I understood it a little better.

All in all, I’m glad I stuck through until the end despite my inclination to put it aside a time or two. I wanted to give this story every chance I could because I was so excited by the concept, and because I did I got to see the evolution of Tess. But on a whole it was lacking the excitement I craved.

About Rachel Hartman

Rachel was born in Kentucky, but has lived a variety of places including Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She has a BA in Comparative Literature, although she insists it should have been a BS because her undergraduate thesis was called “Paradox and Parody in Don Quixote and the satires of Lucian.” She eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books. She now lives in Vancouver, BC, with her family, their whippet, and a talking frog and salamander (who fight zombies)(really. There are a lot of zombies in the Pacific Northwest).

Sara @ Forever 17 Books

9 Responses to “Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman”

  1. Nick

    Ahh it sounds like it had some really good elements, but ended up not being executed all that well. I have been struggling so much with YA books lately, especially fantasy. It sucks because that used to be one of my favorite genres.
    I’m totally with you on that cover! It’s stunning!
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    • Sara @ Forever 17 Books

      I’ve been reading more fantasy lately. At least it feels that way. But I do sometimes struggle following along with the world building. Could be me. Could be the books I’m choosing. I don’t know. lol

  2. Danielle Hammelef

    The cover and premise both are amazing, I agree. I have read quite a few “black sheep” reviews about this one that repeat what you mentioned about the slow pacing and world-building. I do enjoy fantasy, so maybe this one is worth me checking out from the library to try.

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