Tuesday, February 20, 2018

[Review] Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Trigger warning: Rape, miscarriage.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Rating: 2 stars
Format: ARC 
Release Date: February 27th 2018

Goodreads Synopsis:
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 just felt so many internal frustrations with Tess of the Road because on one hand, Tess's development on her adventure/quest for personal healing was actually really good (if you dig deeply into it the adventure, it's very symbolic with all the obstacles she has to overcome to find herself again), but on the other... There's just so much going on. And it's such a bulky, huge book (500+ pages), that it takes time to accomplish where it wants to go and how it wants to do it!

Plus while the worldbuilding would have been decent if I read Seraphina... I HAVEN'T READ SERAPHINA. So I couldn't exactly pinpoint in my mind how the dragons or the quigutl worked. Or even how some dragons were saints and Seraphina was a saint? Really confusing stuff here.

I'll try to breakdown this as best as I can.

Tess lives in Goredd, a very religious country where a woman's purity is highly valued and for Tess to help her family, she must remain pure and marry upwards on the social class structure. However, this does not go according to plan and Tess is turned into a family outcast, who feels unease, unhappiness, and is scarred by what has occurred. Instead of being sent off to a convent, she runs off with a childhood friend, Pathka, on an adventure to find what is known as a World Serpent. The World Serpent, to my understanding, helps a person dream and find their purpose in life. This is especially important to Tess, who has lost her footing. Tess disguises herself as a man and sets off, learning much about the countries surrounding Goredd and especially about herself, as she tries to unwind and uncover the many layers of hurt that have been surrounding her all these years.

What I struggled with was how long it took for me to think this up, because as I was reading I wasn't sure exactly what was happening, but thinking about this more post-reading helped a lot. I hope this makes sense to everyone else. Because getting to the point of starting the adventure takes so much time to get there!

Even in the adventure, understandably, there are a lot of detours, twists and turns, and other barriers, but sometimes they detracted from the ultimate point of the novel, which was (if I'm hopefully right) Tess's personal growth and healing. Tess is a very mature character for her age, full of her own doubts and scars, and shedding the barriers took time. The scenes where Tess is grappling with what happened to her are perhaps the STRONGEST of the book, and the most compelling.

"There's something crucial you may not seem to know. A woman may take as much pleasure from relations as a man," said Dulsia. "She may even do this on her own, no man required."
And then she told a tale so outlandish that Tess's mind rebelled and rejected it. There was no such thing as a nupa - Tess couldn't even translate the word in Goreddi. It had to be a lie.
Tess would have hotly refuted this nonsense if the damaelle's skilled hands had not, at that very moment, reached the tightest and most terrible of her muscles, the fibers of her lower back.
Where Tess had hurt, exactly, when Dozerius was born.
The memory had been locked in her back, like coins in a strongbox, like a prisoner in a dungeon, and pounding roadbed had bound it tighter. Feeling the same hurt again set the memory free. Pain sprouted across the ready ground of Tess's body and bloomed: pink clover pain, bright buttercups of sorrow, flaring poppies of agony.
Violent sobs, like barking, burst from her throat. She could not hold them back, or she'd split down the middle. 

Scenes like this were what made me enjoy the latter of the book, where there was a fixed concentration on Tess. There was also an openness on maturity and love, which I found in a very interesting quote from her love interest, Josquin. Both were extremely broken, but how they found strength in each other was very touching.

"I'll miss you every day, the way I miss Rebecca. The way I miss walking. But this is my road. I'm so happy you came and traveled with me."
"I'll come back," said Tess, growing emotional.
"I know you will," He said, smoothing her hair with a strong hand. "And you'll have other paramours by then, and so will I, and we will all be dear old friends, happy to see each other, full of wondrous stories."

Unfortunately, most of the book is a lot of wandering, much like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Both metaphorical wandering with the World Serpent and physical misadventure. I wasn't really into the subplot of the World Serpent/Pathka/Kikiu. That could have been better developed and explained. So while there are very good scenes and great character growth and healing from Tess, especially with serious topics, it was not enough for me to enjoy the novel as a whole.


  1. Oooh I didn't know about this book -- thanks for putting it on my radar, and for being honest about your review! -Jessica @ The Book Bratz

  2. I love the cover for this book! I'm sorry that it was hard to understand the world building the way that it was done. It's hard when books interlace with each other so some details are not shown in other books. Great review!