Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road
Rachel Hartman
I read Seraphina a while ago, back when I first got my Net Galley account, so I think it’s safe to say I have a bit of a foggy memory on what exactly happened during it. I still remembered, roughly the world of the book… okay, no, that’s kind of a lie I only remembered that there are dragons that look like people and that Seraphina herself was a half-dragon, which was not a good thing for her. And then I never read the sequel, even though I really enjoyed the first. Because it was so long between Seraphina and Tessthere was a lot of important world building I had completely forgotten, or even missed because I skipped book two, and I will admit that it hindered my experience of the book a bit. There were just some tidbits that it was expected the reader to know going into it, and while none of these were plot-changing, they were plot-relevant, so I’d recommend reading the originals (which are an absolute treat) before diving into this one.

The best thing about this book is its heroine, Tess. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another character go through such incredible growth over the course of one novel. Or, if I have, I haven’t been sold on it being legitimate and rewarding to both said character and the reader. She starts off as an absolute brat (although perhaps for good reasons) with no motivation which was so frustrating to me, and then, along her quest, she becomes a mature woman with a potential she’s beginning to realize. I can’t say much without spoiling something, but if you’re frustrated with her at the beginning I promise that reading the whole book will prove rewarding. I also want to say, as a sort of post-script to this paragraph, that as frustrating as Tess was I never found her unlikable. I just found her incredibly flawed, like a real person is. In fact, I felt this way about pretty much all the characters, and I really appreciated that.

Even though I could have done with a refresher of the world-building and the history of what exactly was happening in this world, I still found it an incredibly cool place to read about. There were so many different cultures that clashed and melded in very realistic ways. Beyond the physicality of the places described I found the book to be really diverse and have good representation in a lot of ways. For one, Tess, and women in general, are given a pretty poor lot in life (I mean, it’s not awful, but the expectations for Tess are very conservative and disagreeable) and Tess has lived all her life prior to the book under this oppressive lifestyle. But she grows and learns that, hey, the world that was painted for her is not the only world and that she has power and control over her body and that she can love herself and her body and her womanhood. While at the same time there’s also a lot of recognizing of gender-fluidity. Tess masquerades as a boy for a good chunk of the book and while a lot of her personal journey is about becoming comfortable as a woman, she does actually approach being a boy as if she is one. It’s not spelled out (for her) but I do get the strong impression that she’s a gender-fluid character. What is spelled out is the gendering of the quigtul.First off, they aren’t human, so I’m not going to try and put a real-world human counterpart onto them. The quigtuluse gender neutral pronouns when they refer to themselves and they change gender as they age, and this is seen as an acceptable and assumed part of their lives. Even better: this is never depicted in any way as being weird or wrong. It’s a fact of life and people accept it. It’s so lovely.

Beyond being a bit left in the dust because I wasn’t that familiar with the preceding stories, the other “down-side” was how slow the story takes. It plods along for a very long while. I would even argue that almost nothing happens for the majority of the book. At first this was incredibly frustrating, but the writing was really, really good. It remained pretty frustrating until, suddenly, it wasn’t, and I got sucked into the story. I can’t say I know when it happened, because I just don’t. There was no acknowledged shift and the most I can say is that I probably just became accustomed to the pace that the book was taking, and I rolled with it. The lovely writing certainly helped.

TL;DR It's worth reading not just for the fantasy but also for the way it tackles so many real-world issues, particularly rape culture.


In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can't seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she's done is so disgraceful, she can't even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess's family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.
But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She's not running away, she's running towards something. What that something is, she doesn't know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else--a life where she might belong.
Returning to the spellbinding world of the Southlands she created in the award-winning, New York Times bestselling novel Seraphina, Rachel Hartman explores self-reliance and redemption in this wholly original fantasy.
Rachel Hartman lives and writes in Vancouver, BC.
Her first YA fantasy novel, Seraphina, was published by Random House on July 10th, 2012. Here are some things that are already being said about Seraphina by some fabulous authors:
“A book worth hoarding, as glittering and silver-bright as dragon scales, with a heroine who insists on carving herself a place in your mind.” — Naomi Novik, New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire series.
“Seraphina is strong, complex, talented — she makes mistakes and struggles to trust, with good reason, and she fights to survive in a world that would tear her apart. I love this book!” — Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author.


“Just when you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, it turns out there is, and plenty! Rachel Hartman’s rich invention never fails to impress — and to convince. It’s smart and funny and original, and has characters I will follow to the ends of the earth.” — Ellen Kushner, World Fantasy Award-winning author.
 Book cover linked to Goodreads. Book cover, and description taken from Goodreads. 

3 comments:

  1. Seraphina was a book I always meant to read and never did. I never realized that it was a longer series and it was already on book three! Reading your review of it, though, makes me really want to finally check out this series. Thanks for writing it!

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    1. I'd definitely recommend it! Seraphina was a good read from what I remember, though I will say they're not quick reads. I definitely had to put aside some time which I completely forgot about. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I've got the audio book on hold at the library. I'm looking forward to trying it for myself. Good review.

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