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Tess of the Road

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Meet Tess, a brave new heroine from beloved epic fantasy author Rachel Hartman.

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.

Returning to the fascinating world she created in the award-winning and New York Times bestselling Seraphina, Rachel Hartman introduces readers to a new character and a new quest, pushing the boundaries of genre once again in this wholly original fantasy.

544 pages, Hardcover

First published February 27, 2018

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About the author

Rachel Hartman

14 books3,821 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,077 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
March 27, 2018
4 1/2 stars. Tess of the Road is a great example of how being “slow” and being “compelling” are not mutually exclusive. I was utterly sucked into this book, but be warned: the pacing is definitely languid.

This is character-driven fantasy at its best. It's slow. It's about people, relationships and a young woman's life. The magic is limited and if you took out the few fantastical elements - namely, the dragons and quigutl - then this could easily be Contemporary or Historical Fiction. But it doesn't suffer for it, in my opinion.

I guess it depends what you like. One of my favourite fantasy series is Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, which also focuses heavily on character dynamics. And, truth be told, I am so burned out on the same magic systems reworded to sound somewhat new, the same throne struggles, the same stock characters and romances. I felt like this was something fresh and new-- a deep and intricate portrait of a woman’s early life.

This book follows Tess's journey in alternating past and present narratives. Hartman uses a fantasy setting to explore issues of consent and ideas about womanhood, virginity and religion. Tess, always the rebellious one, breaks away from the path her family have chosen for her and seeks other options out on the road in this world of misogyny and devout faith. Her relationships with her twin sister, her mother (whose voice of judgment rings constantly in Tess’s head) Seraphina and Pathka, as well as others, are complex and are developed gradually over the course of the novel.

And Tess. Oh, Tess. She is messed up and has something of a drinking problem. She pushes people away and, at times, actively screws up her own chances of happiness. But, so help me, I loved her. Her growth from a young girl into a woman - making mistakes, being selfish, etc. - feels so realistic and organic. This is not a book of mystery - honestly, most readers will guess the truth of Tess’s traumatic past - but I still sat rapt in horrified anticipation of what I knew must be coming.

Tess of the Road definitely does not check many of the regular fantasy boxes (uncomplicated strong heroine, blandly gorgeous love interest, fight to reclaim throne, some magic blah blah) which is probably why it won’t join the other trope-wielders on the bestseller list. But it was a breath of fresh air to me. Plus, the few fantasy elements it does include seemed new and exciting, such as the quigutl and their use of the ungendered pronoun "ko".

There are different kinds of great writers. There are those who know how to craft a perfect sentence, enchant with it, capture with words something that the reader will place in a colourful graphic and share all over Pinterest. Then there are the storytellers. They are not so readily quotable— their strength not in an individual sentence but in the slow build, through paragraphs and chapters, of a complex story and characters. I think this book demonstrates the latter.

If you enjoy this kind of slow-burn, complex fantasy, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Though this is set in the same universe as Hartman's previous books, I didn't finish Seraphina and never read Shadow Scale, so I would say it is perfectly fine to jump in right here.


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Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,470 reviews9,633 followers
April 14, 2018
I loved the hell out of this book!!

Some will love it and some will hate it. I could give a damn because I love it.

This is what "They" call a character driven book. This book is about Tess and her journey. And she has some delightful friends along the way.

This is the first book I have read from the author. Yeah, I know this is the same world as Seraphina and I might read that duology one day. And yes, there are some things with Seraphina in it but I don't give a rats @ss. This is Tess story, the good the bad, the ugly and some nice things.

I hope the next book is just as awesome and I hope to read more of Tess and another journey she is taking.

Soooo, read the book for yourself and make your own damn decisions.

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
December 19, 2021
This was not a hit with my book club. Boo. I can see now how all the dragon stuff/philosophy wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. But I am side-eyeing people in my club who said this was book was bad. You all are wrong!

Anyway, looking forward to the sequel.
A story after my own heart.

Much less of a fantasy than it is a journey of self-discovery. Slow going? Maybe. But I didn't expect or want high-octane action, blood and romances. There is a million of those kind of fantasies already in the world.

Instead, "Tess of the Road" is a careful, loving, empathetic, compassionate exploration of what it is to be a "bad" young woman, to make mistakes and meet your parents' worst expectations, to be confined and suffocated by social norms and religion. It's a tale of forgiveness, redemption and asserting and believing in your own best self.

P.S. If it doesn't sound like your kind of fantasy, it probably isn't. The negative reviews are not exactly wrong. They just reflect different expectations from the genre.
Profile Image for E.K. Johnston.
Author 26 books2,352 followers
June 23, 2017

What Hartman did here is something I have been wanting the fantasy genre to do FOR A WHILE NOW in that Tess is, in response to her direct situation, "unlikeable" and "unsympathetic" and therefore AMAZING. She's ungraceful, uncooperative, and unrepentant. I love her so much I might burst. It's all "Come for the fantasy quest adventure STAY FOR THE DISSECTION OF RAPE CULTRE" and it's absolutely on point throughout.

One of the hallmarks of Hartman's work is her ability to kill your heart with grammar. She did it in Shadow Scale, and she did it again times a billion in TotR. I JUST. I JUST. IT'S SO GOOD.

SO ANYWAY. The pub date is a while off, but this book is worth the wait. And we've been waiting for a long time.
Profile Image for Bentley ★ Bookbastion.net.
242 reviews553 followers
December 8, 2017
The prose is undeniably well written, but unfortunately the story left a lot to be desired.

Things happen, and characters move around a bit, but nothing exciting ever really happens. There's lots of small moments with heavy-handed moralistic messages to be had, but I just couldn't get into the way it was delivered.

I've never read any of the Seraphina books, and unfortunately, this book has retroactively put my interest off Rachel Hartman's earlier series.

For those of you drawn to this book because of the prospect of dragons - as I was - look elsewhere, as that is a promise left totally unfulfilled.

I may or may not write a longer review in January, closer to this book's review date. But as it stands I'm ready to move on to better and brighter horizons.

2/5 stars

Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for an ARC of this book! Review to come closer to publication date!
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,074 followers
August 1, 2022
3.5 ⭐️

“She still held sorrows, but she was not made of them. Her life was not a tragedy. It was history, and it was hers.”

A slow burn, but plenty to love in this novel!
Tess is living in shame, constantly judged and ridiculed by her mother about something that happened previously.

When Tess cannot take it any longer and ends up causing a scene, she decides to hit the road.

On the way she becomes reacquainted with her childhood friend Pathka, and learns how to fend for herself and eventually how to heal.

There is a lot of talk of right and wrong, and everything in between - so keep that in mind if you don’t want to read big moral dilemmas.

I loved watching Tess grow and slowly revealing what had happened to her when she was young. Didn’t entirely get Pathka’s character and the whole ‘biting’ thing, but easy to roll with as a fantasy element of the story.

Tess was a great character to root for and follow and I would be intrigued to see what she does next.
March 2, 2019
My rating: 1.5
UPDATE: Here is the author herself saying its a dragon on the cover. So now can you all leave me alone and stop telling me how its not a dragon. OR how my views are wrong because you loved the book and i should too, because i as an individual don't get to have opinions because yours are more important. Agree with you all or shall be called names. Its called bullying!

I just can't with this fact. 🙄

I was just so excited when I found this book and that cover.... I couldn't wait for release day as I added it to my want to read list.... Sigh! And than oh I got the book. And haay excitement ends a few pages into the book! 🔥and honestly 1/3 of the way in it became a chore I had to finish!

This book is about Tess and how she is very unconventional to the societies mold of what a women should be like.
She is a troublemaker and ends up in a lot of trouble through out the years of her life. And one day before she is going to be sent to the nuns she decides to leave home and go on an adventure on the road.

Tess, ah i don't how to explain. She is a flawed character. With lot of angst and baggage. When we first meet her in her childhood years she is such a mischievous troublemaker. But in her later year we meet this guilty in a shell Tess. I don't know if I liked her. Her arc was nice and well earned but her as a whole I just didn't like her.

The title and the book heavily makes you think ADVENTURE. But guys it's misleading. Nothing adventurous happens Or remotely exiting. People and character move around from place to place and meet new people. But it's just a BIG DRAG AND A SNOOZE FEST TO BE HONEST. I didn't find this any bit of adventurous or fun.

This book is instead a JOURNEY TO FIND ONE SELF. This was about forgiveness. This was about being okay with your own self and just turning away from self hatred and moving on. So yeah the whole "Tess Of the Road" is not about having an Adventure but instead it's just about catharsis and therapeutic thinking 🙄 while you walk and walk and waaaaaaaaaaalk.

There is whole cloud or like the main theme of feminism over this book. It takes on and on about this medieval thoughts that surrounded ideals about how a women should be. And how Tess defys them. It's was just there were like two extremes in this book. One like very pious and one that is atmost whore-ish (words used in book). Their are several line or passages from words of saints and religion about how pious and domestic a women should be. And how much hey should not sin. It was a big fat discussion thought out. Periods are discussed through out the book. Having sex, rape, finding contraceptives, pleasuring one own self and meeting a whore (used in book) were just some of the things done in terms of finding/discussing womenhood and ideals of what's right and what not. Sometimes this book was a bit to adult not ya!

There are no DRAGONS IN THIS BOOK. None what so ever. At least not the type the book cover says. Their is a sub specie who is Tess's friend from childhood but it's a weird lizard type animal with four hands and all! NOT A DRAGON. NO DRAGON MAKES AN APPEARANCE IN THIS WHOLE BOOK!! Like the scaly things with wings,who spew fire( for people coming to fight me that oh there are dragons -_- )

Other characters are also huh? Tess sister is ugh! The special snowflake syndrome is the matter with her and is the character of the story who is such a special rose and doesn't do any wrong and has no backbone and is just annoying. Tess's parents are infuriating. The quigtul (the sub dragon lizard things) are just huh and very peculiar and lots of biting each other ah?!?!

I have no idea what the heck was the plot?!@)*!$?"!$! Other than just putting on boots walking and walking and having cathartic ideas?!?!?! The whole world serpent thing was idk what? We never found much about it. I was all the waaaay confused about it all?!?! What was? what? who was Anathuthia?!?!?! And well I didn't end up solving my confusion even till the end..... It was just so inconclusive and over the place. And slooooow!

The writing even though has a nice prose and style. I just found it way too complicated and if a person hasn't read the Seraphaina duology they will be pretty much lost half the time. Also it felt like we had to work for information. The past of Tess the oh so scandalous thing that happened to her was revealed in 50454848550 short snippets. And we don't really know all of it will like the 70 pages are left in the book. I mean wow so much dangling.

The world building is just not done and left to the person's knowledge of Seraphina which is very weird since these are two separate series one should not require to read another series to understand this one.
We don't even have a map?!?! I mean it's a book about adventure and doing on a road trip? Hello where the heck is the maaaap?

Over despite some interesting theme and messages this book was not for me. It was too much. And so boring nothing interesting ever happens. Or the things that were supposed to be interesting for me where a big fat dull dud. It's just pages upon pages of boring and snooze fest!
This was my face and feelings when i ended this book......

If you enjoy over the top themes of feminism this book might be enjoyed by you.

Just don't go expecting a dragon and amazing road trip!!

I’d like to thank Penguin Random House International for my advance reader copy!

Feb 16, 2018 Look i was so excited about this one but all the dnf's and 2 star reviews that are now up by people are scaring me! I WANT TO LIKE AND ENJOY YOU PLs.... Why does this happen to me ugh?! :(

Profile Image for Nemo ☠️ (pagesandprozac).
865 reviews396 followers
Want to read
August 31, 2017
AGH i'm not a fan of the girl-dresses-as-boy trope but i love rachel hartman so DUH i'll be reading this

((if you're interested in why i don't like it: ))
Profile Image for Simona B.
892 reviews2,985 followers
November 29, 2017
*I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Buddy read with Vippi, whose review you can find here!

DNF 50%

This book sucked all my will right out of me. I'm an empty well. I don't even want to write a review. Vippi and I posted our thoughts here (though the latter half are in Italian, I'm afraid) and what I'll do here below is copy and paste my comments on each block of chapters (translating, partly or entirely, those in Italian). They are complete with both the good and the bad; they are more like diary entries than proper review paragraphs, which means they are completely different from what you'd expect from a real review, and I apologise if that is annoying for you.

➤Day 1 - From the prologue to chapter 3: I'm a bit conflicted about Tess's character. E.K. Johnston in her comment on the book described her as "uncooperative", saying this is precisely (one of) the reason(s) why she adores her, but I'm not so sure. Take the disaster she causes at her sister's wedding, for instance. Tess is an extremely clever person, and I can't doubt she could have avoided all that fuss easily. It is also true that this is a pet peeve I have in general—I just hate it when characters behave stupidly (by the standards of each) without a reason—so this circumstance may not look as annoying to other readers.

On the other hand, I found myself completely won over by Hartman's choice to give voice to a heroine (and a YA heroine at that!) with such a past. I'm really looking forward to seeing Tess's development in this sense and I hope with all of myself her character development will include (possibly not marginally) the problem of dealing with her past, and I also hope (about this I have no worries, however) it will be done in a healthy, respectful way.

The writing is lush, rich, and in principle I like it, but I notice a certain tendency to wander off a little bit. In this respect, the length of the book worries me. I hope it won't turn out to be one of those smoke-and-mirrors plot in which a million things happen but only one or two are actually relevant to the plot itself...

➤Day 2 - From chapter 4 to chapter 7: I'm going to be blunt. My reaction to these chapters was to feel a bit awed and intrigued, a bigger bit sorry and mostly mortally bored.

Let's start with Feeling One.
The criticism on the view of women as domestic angels & co and on sexuality still goes strong, and I wish, deeply wish, only for the sake of this thematic thread, I enjoyed the book more. Which explains my Feeling Two, sadness with shades of regret.
And now, Feeling Three. I read these four chapters some three or four hours ago, and already I can't remember the details. I should have been able to infer this from the title, I guess, but I've got the feeling Tess of the Road is going to develop on the lines of the picaresque genre (mind that I said "on the lines of", not "exactly as a picaresque novel") and I'm not sure I'm going to like that. But anyway, the problem with these chapters is not that they are not good in any way I can point out; their events are just plain boring and, to me, uninteresting, and to make matters worse, they happen to play on the notes of a trope (heroine dressing as a boy and setting off on a journey) that I don't particularly love. Tess is losing her edge, and I would like to have more show and less telling when it comes to her past—or so I thought until the scene with the first meeting between Tess and her dragon friend came. I didn't care one bit about that.

On a side note, I guess reading this will be easier for those already acquainted with the world having read the Seraphina duology. It's not a big problem, but I guess I would have noticed more nuances in the narrative had I known those books, and I feel like I've missed some fundamental beginner's lesson. It would be nice not to have to grope in the dark so much.

➤Day 3 - From chapter 8 to chapter 10: It seems to me that the more I read, the less the story goes on. In chapter 8 there is this childhood episode, and in the other two, well how about pretty much nothing? It is symptomatic that there's a moment when Pathka says, “Today we find the best one [cave entrance] and begin our journey toward Anathuthia,” to which Tess replies,“I thought we'd begun.” Exactly my thoughts.
Even more symptomatic, and I'm a bit ashamed to say it, but I haven't really understood what this “Anathuthia” is supposed to be or do... in the text you find, “Anathuthia will hold a mirror to your heart, answer the unanswerable, plane the rough place,” and, “The World Serpent... will restore us to ourselves.” But these are just fluff that might mean just about anything, do you follow me? On the other hand, I admit to skipping a couple of lines here and there because it was either that or die of boredom, so I could have accidentally missed the bit with the full explanation. If that's the case, please forgive me, and if you can shed light on this matter, please come forward.

Long story short, as of now, the book, or more specifically I should say the plot, just seems to me completely pointless and aimless. I'm super disappointed.

➤ Day 4 - From chapter 11 to chapter 14: Fluff, fluff, and some more fluff. How wonderful. [And here I drop down to my knees to beg Vippi to forgive me my weakness and shamefully run for the hills make my exit.]
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
February 6, 2022
“Maybe the world isn’t really different, but I am different, and I am in the world.”

So What’s It About?

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.

What I Thought

This is a pretty special one, folks, and will most certainly be added to the list of Charlotte’s Supremely Favorite Fantasy Books About Trauma and Recovery. It’s a meandering picaresque journey about a girl finding herself through layers of self-hatred and it balances the aspects of exploration and adventure with the aspects of self-reflection and growth very well.

The heart of the story’s strength is that Tess is a really strong character. She’s a complex mix of irrepressible spirit and mischief and pain and self-hatred and kindness and curiosity and determination to do the right thing. Hartman does a great job of showing her layers of guilt and grief and denial and blame, everything damaging she has learned from her society and her mother in particular. Her journey is an extremely powerful one of learning that she can make a difference in the world while coming to terms with her past and her body and silencing the hateful voices in her head.

Tess’s story is one that has to do with grooming and rape, and the book deals excellently with Goredd’s culture of victim-blaming and sexual repression, showing how these things go hand in hand with patriarchy and misguided religious fervor. Tess’s story shows how these unjust societal standards simply invisibilize the harm that happens, casts blame on the people who were hurt rather than the people who made a deliberate decision to hurt someone else, and perpetuate a sexual double standard that in turn exacerbates when repercussions are handed out in the aftermath of sexual assault. I know some readers don’t like reading about sexist worlds but I do when they have something meaningful to say that sheds light on our own world, and that’s definitely the case here.

One interesting note about Tess’s story is that she is not only a victim, but under her rapist Will’s instruction she also kissed Spira without his consent, ruining his position with the academy and getting him extremely sick. I’ll admit that it sat really uneasily with me at first to acknowledge the way that a survivor can hurt someone else because of their own grooming and abuse. It’s an important and uncomfortable thing to remember but it feels like a massive part of Tess’s story that just isn’t really addressed as completely as the rest of her past over the course of the book. Spira shows up at the end of the story and he and Tess are heading to the same place, so I’m hoping this will be explored more in the next book.

The other qualm I have is, like my beloved Daughter of the Forest, Tess of the Road also features an underage survivor having Beautiful Healing Sex with a man who is much older than her. YEAH it’s a fantasy book set in made up olden times but this kind of plot point feels weird to me no matter what!!!

Another strength is the complexity of the family dynamics that are depicted, especially the "good sister, bad sister" conflict between Tess and her sister Jeanne due to their mother’s unhappiness and exacting nature. It really rings true as the sibling dynamic in an unhappy family, especially the fact that each one of them has a totally different perspective on their childhoods and respective burdens because of the other sister. I like that this isn’t perfectly resolved by the end of the book.

This is a book with an extremely charming and lovely writing style and tons of endearing details like dirty marginalia in a monastery and fables about a giant hedgehog. The dialogue is also consistently great and Tess encounters many vivid characters throughout her journeys, from the miserable monk Moldi to implacable Seraphina and Tess’s dear quigutl companion Pathka. I really liked the quigutl a lot - their culture is very interesting, as is the entirety of the lore surrounding dragons, saints and World Serpents.

I do question a few of Tess’s big decisions over the course of the book. I specifically don't find it credible that she doesn’t anticipate the humans killing/exploiting Anathuthia after she makes the World Serpent’s presence known to them. It’s also strange that she doesn’t let her work crew know she is alive after surviving a cave-in. They’re her friends and they all think she’s dead, and while she could easily have retraced her steps to say goodbye she just lets them continue thinking she’s dead.

I can’t seem to find much info about whether this book is inspired by Tess of the D’urbervilles but I could definitely see that being the case - you have the same deeply patriarchal world that punishes a young woman after her rape, the death of a baby born from her abuse and her process of survival through common labor after the fact. If anyone happens to know anything more about this let me know, because I’m curious!
Profile Image for Trina (Between Chapters).
858 reviews3,759 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
July 13, 2018
DNF at 24%

I didn't realize that this book was a companion sequel to Seraphina, which I haven't read.

Obviously, these things might have turned around by the end of the book, but up to the point I read I was upset by the strong fat-hate and utterly bored by the 'Egads! She's not a virgin!' society. It's been done to death. I'm sure the point is to challenge that mindset because the main character opposes those ideas, but it went a little hard on the sex shaming up to where I read.

I decided to DNF because fantasy creatures popped up but it was like no one took to the time to introduce me to them. I think I missed out on the worldbuilding since I didn't read the Seraphina books. With this being called the start of its own series, I wish more time had been spent filling in new readers.

Ultimately, this just wasn't what I was expecting and I'm more interested in other things at the moment. I may continue it in the future.

Audiobook: I am a fan of the narrator! I've listened to another book she's narrated before and was excited to recognize her. She's very pleasant to listen to and I contemplated sticking with the book just for her.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,984 followers
March 1, 2018
I can already tell this is going to be one of my top books of the year. It's extraordinary
Profile Image for Justine.
1,134 reviews309 followers
April 3, 2019
I loved this book so much. It broke my heart and put it back together. Seraphina was one of my favourite books I read in 2016, and this one is absolutely going on my favourites shelf for 2018.

Tess is Seraphina's half sister, who by the age of 17 has (apparently) ruined all her prospects for a respectable marriage and so now puts her energy towards helping her twin sister acheive that goal instead. But when Jeanne secures a good husband, the only options given to Tess, to become a governess to her sister's future children or be packed off to a convent, hardly seem like options at all. Tess ends up taking to the road in an effort to reclaim some control over her future.

At the beginning of the book Tess is an angry, bitter, and deeply unhappy young woman. The reasons for this at first seem obvious, but as Tess' journey unfolds it becomes apparent both to the reader and to Tess herself that there are much deeper motivations at work. The road becomes a place where she can grow into the person she needs to be in order to confront the events of her past.

Tess of the Road is more than just a simple story about a young woman who sets out to find herself. It is a story about the unmaking and remaking of the self, which by its nature is a slow and painful process. This is a wonderfully written and deeply moving book filled with characters I couldn't get enough of. From the way it ends it seems Hartman intends to write another book in this series, and I couldn't be happier about that.

We build history every day, anew.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 168 books37.5k followers
November 21, 2017
I don't like to read reviews before I've jotted down my own impressions of a book, though I usually cast my eyes rapidly down the Goodreads column, picking out words here and there. While doing that to this book, I got more whiplash than usual: superlatives in one chunk of text would be followed by "bored" "hated" "impossible" and the like.

I guess I can see that. My own impression of this book, which I finished a few days ago, and have been contemplating since, is "a glorious mess."

Things I liked: the dragon creatures and their anarchic, truly weird, customs and outlook and (rather gross) physicality.

I liked Tess's entire arc. It's an earned arc. I might have misgivings about how we got there, but when we arrived it was so satisfying, and the underlying emotional damage resonated with soul-damaging truth.

I loved the writing, with its closely observed bits of human behavior, contributing to complexity. (And some really nifty turns of phrase, with only one grammar bobble in the entire thing, so rare!) Hartman writes with such rich, wild imagery, and zings of humor when one least expects it.

I loved the nuns we met later in the book, including older women with refreshingly acerb and practical outlook, while squarely placed in the given worldview. These are not twenty-first century Americans shoehorned into a fake-fantasy world with a religion specifically designed to be horrible. (Though at first it read that way.)

Which brings me to stuff I had trouble with.

But these are all highly subjective reactions, which I hesitate to call flaws. Which is why I think of the book as an eminently readable, insightful, glorious mess.

Copy provided by NetGalley
Profile Image for Brooke — brooklynnnnereads.
1,005 reviews247 followers
February 24, 2018
I'm trying to gather and organize my thoughts on this one but let me tell you, I'm having a hard time. This book is a hard one to review in the fact that it was in total opposition of what I expected.

Before I get into the review, I do want to recommend that before reading this book, read the prior two novels set in this world entitled, "Seraphina" and "Shadowscale". I have not read those novels and I think if I had it would have made everything more clear. This fantasy world is a difficult one to understand with all of the various mythical creatures, languages, and settings which the reader is sort of thrust upon as if they have knowledge or have been introduced to before. Also, although I have not read the original duology, I can guarantee that there are cameos from those characters within this novel along with mentions of those particular stories.

Now, onward to my review. When I picked this novel up, judging by the summary and the fairly innocent (yet beautiful) cover, I thought I would be reading a fantastical novel surrounding a young woman's quest. Although, there is a physical quest in this book, the story is more about the character's own personal development and discovery while on this quest.

This novel is HEAVY. The content is dark, it's raw, and for me I didn't see it coming. For that, I have to give some content warnings for abuse, assault, rape, death and I feel that there is probably more but I do want to avoid spoilers. Do not think that this is a light novel about a simple character's quest because it's not. It is an important novel because although it's fantasy a lot of the darker content unfortunately can play a part in reality.

The writing in this novel was amazing and an obvious example of the author's talent; however, I did not find myself enthralled and captured by the story. At times I was confused with the world, the unfamiliar languages, and the timeline (as the story would alternate between now and in the past with no predictable pattern). Also, as much as I did have sympathy for the main character and her struggles, I did not find her (or any of the other characters) likeable. Personally, I do like to have at least one character that is likeable in a novel that I'm reading.

I find that I say this a lot in reviews but with this novel it's especially true: you're either going to love or hate this book. It's important content fictionalized so I believe some will benefit and love the story for it's rawness and depiction of realistic events. However, there may be others whom like me expected more of an innocent fantasy quest novel. For those people, they may be drastically surprised with the actual story.

***Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review***
Profile Image for Melissa Stacy.
Author 5 books198 followers
October 16, 2018
The 2018 YA fantasy, "Tess of the Road," by Rachel Hartman, is a long, slow, and incredibly detailed read. This book is a YA retelling of Thomas Hardy's 1891 classic, "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," and, in many ways, is just as grim. The dragon on the cover of this book gives the reader an expectation that this book will star a dragon, but there are only sub-dragon "serpent" creatures in this story, and these animals have only brief, intermittent scenes throughout the story. The "real" dragons are elsewhere, occasionally spoken of in dialogue, but none of them interact directly with the plot.

It's impossible for me to discuss this book without unmarked spoilers, so please be warned that you should stop reading here if you don't want this book spoiled. Thanks!

**unmarked spoilers ahead**

First, I must give the author a lot of credit for starring a YA novel with such a clueless and unlikeable protagonist. The landscape of fantasy YA is dominated by super-powered teens, Mary Sues, and Chosen Ones, and the seventeen-year-old main character of this book, Tess Dombegh, is certainly none of those things. There are 521 pages in the hardback edition I read, and by page 75, it is clear that Tess is an ordinary human girl who has suffered a *lot* of trauma: by the age of fifteen, she gave birth to a baby she is now permanently separated from, and watching Tess grapple with her internalized shame is the entire point of this book.

I must confess that by page 75, once it was clear to me that this entire book would be a slow-reveal of Tess's traumatic backstory, and coming to grips with her past, with barely any mention of dragons or serpents by that point, and certainly none being featured in scene, I had to start skimming for the following reasons:

1. The world this story is set in is extremely depressing. The culture of this society is highly religious and full of a fantasy version of historical Christianity; it's very similar to a 1650 version of Puritanism or a 1650 version of Catholicism. There were more Catholic elements in this fantasy-religion than Protestant, but the overall message and ethos of the novel's religion is founded upon the most intense misogyny. Women are seen as being good for only two things: virginity and motherhood. Women's sexuality is completely demonized and suppressed.

2. While the setting feels like 17th-centure Europe, modern-day gender egalitarianism in the workforce is featured alongside this 1650s version of fantasy Christianity. Women must wear long, binding dresses with corsets, men wear pants, but women can still be scholars, adventurers, ship captains, and road crew bosses. The novel features modern-day sexism in the workplace as being symbolic of the realities of women's oppression in a 1650s version of Catholicism -- and this is so inaccurate as to be nonsensical and upsetting to me to read. Having gender equality in the workplace (for the ambitious few women who choose to work) also makes Tess an even weaker character overall, because she can see for herself that there are other options open to women than marriage and procreation, and yet she is a self-destructive, self-loathing teenage girl full of internalized shame and self-hatred, regardless of the multiple pathways in life that are open to her.

3. No one ever challenges the religious ideology in this book, or calls out the religious order in this novel as a form of systemic oppression. The novel focuses solely on Tess's long journey to overcome her internalized cultural and religious shame, without ever once asking the question, "Why is our religion this way? Why does the entire culture oppress women? How can these religious texts be reinterpreted, to allow women to honor and appreciate their own bodies, rather than teaching women that their bodies are inherently bad and full of sin?"

4. I understand that modern American culture is extremely pornified and deeply misogynistic, and I understand why Tess's journey should have been moving to me to read. But the characters in this book are not modern Americans -- they are all people who practice this misogynistic religion and live in this *extremely* misogynistic society -- and no one in this book is respectful of young women like Tess, or the hard realities women like Tess face in this religion at all. Tess's family is the worst: her two sisters, her mother, her father, her brothers. Everyone in this book is just the worst. I hated the world of this story, I hated Tess's family, I hated the society of rapists and rape-culture-supporters surrounding Tess, I hated the unquestioned misogyny that saturates this entire book. If women can be scholars in this world, why aren't there feminist scholars? Why aren't there feminist religious scholars? Why isn't there any feminism at all? Modern porn culture and modern sexism is a very different form of misogyny than 17th-century Christian colonialist misogyny. I can understand that the author believed she was writing allegory about modern American misogyny, but the equal access to jobs in this book combined with the extremely sh*tty religion made the book read like a dystopian novel in need of a revolution, a revolution that no one ever realized was needed.


The plot of this book reads like an exercise in futility, which echoes the fact that Tess also begins the story with a drinking problem, struggling to numb her pain with any alcohol she can find. Addiction often reads like an exercise in futility, with no forward motion in life due to internal pain. Tess's story reads in a similar way. Within the first one hundred pages, while attending her twin sister's wedding reception, Tess is given the opportunity -- by a woman sea captain, to join the woman's crew on "an expedition through the Archipelagos" and "Antarctica" (page 59). Tess can work on the ship, and learn "cartography, navigation, languages, zoology" (page 59) -- and this opportunity is given freely, with no fees or other obligations demanded of Tess.

Tess, full of self-loathing and cluelessness, angrily turns down the woman's generous offer and storms away, then proceeds to f*ck up her life even more than it is already f*cked up. After an inane scene of drunken bullsh*t, Tess leaves her family and sets off "on the road" -- wandering from place to place for the rest of the book -- until finally, a year and almost 500 pages later, Tess returns to this woman who offered her the job on the expedition, and the novel ends with Tess finally taking this job, and looking forward to a great adventure.

As a character who has developed a drinking problem by the age of seventeen, it should come as no surprise that Tess is someone without a strong inner voice of self-worth. Her self-worth comes from the world around her, and while Tess is on the road, it is the voices of the people she encounters who give her the messages of wisdom she needs to hear.

I am not saying that this is not true to life. Tess, as a character, is very realistic. But watching someone flounder through life, reacting to events and relying upon the wisdom of strangers to teach her life lessons, without ever questioning the roots of the extremely misogynistic religion and culture that has shaped the story's grim and utterly depressing setting -- this book just kept sapping the life right out of me. Rather than feeling a sense of increasing agency, I felt more despair the further into the story I went.

My severe dislike of this novel increased when Tess is given an important "life lesson" from a stereotypical "happy prostitute" named Dulsia (page 350). It gave me the strong impression that this author has never studied prostitution, or the incredibly difficult work people have put into rescuing modern sex workers from prostitution. In the story, Dulsia makes it clear that she was forced to turn to prostitution to save herself and her brothers from homelessness and poverty, and yet, Dulsia's life is presented as a happy one full of agency and volition, and she loves her work. Dulsia is presented as if she's a modern, enlightened woman who chooses to have sex with men simply because: 1.) men pay her for this service, and 2.) it's "easy" work, "easier" than other forms of physical labor. There is no threat of disease or unwanted pregnancy for Dulsia, and she faces no sense of worthlessness as a result of her work.

Dulsia's entire character was deeply insulting to me. It doesn't match modern reality, to say nothing of the world of this fantasy setting Dulsia lives within. Many modern sex workers struggle with depression, many of them commit suicide, they face the highest rates of homicide (being the victims of homicide) in America, and the vast majority of them are dead before they turn 35, either from violent abuse, homicide, suicide, or disease. Prostitution is steeped in the forces of patriarchal oppression, and seeing "a happy prostitute" in this book giving Tess "important life lessons" about how a woman can experience "pleasure" on her own, "with no man required," was honestly enraging to me (page 350). It's not that I disagree that women can experience "pleasure" without a man, but that this lesson comes from "a happy prostitute" who became "a whore" at a very young age to save her family from destitution -- it's the way Dulsia was characterized as the messenger of women's pleasure via prostitution -- THIS IS ALL A GIANT NO FOR ME.

If you cannot see the inherent absurdity of taking a victim of the patriarchy, a victim of intense suffering, and turning her into the source of women's self-awareness and self-pleasure, all I can say is please watch a TED talk or read some well-researched nonfiction about the realities of prostitution. Modern adult women who *choose* to have sex for money are not the same as teenage girls who turn to prostitution to save their families from homelessness. I resent and deeply hate "Tess of the Road" for confusing financial desperation with sex positivity, and ignoring the realities of social stigma and oppression, even the modern oppression against former sex workers, with the horrendously false idea that prostitution is the source of women's sexual empowerment. Women don't need to be prostitutes to learn that the female body is capable of self-pleasure and that women can respect their own bodies, and I'm so sick of novels that continue to tout the message that prostitution is the source of women's sexual empowerment. It's a lie and it's wrong and yet HERE IT IS IN A YA NOVEL.

Modern prostitution continues to plague the world with suffering and oppression, horrors and atrocities that are most acutely felt by young children, adolescents, and young adults. I know many people like to support the fantasy that sex positivity is rooted in prostitution and modern pornography. For the record: this is entirely false. The modern porn industry is a complete nightmare of misogyny, disease, and high numbers of young women who end up as street prostitutes and die before the age of 30. But you have to read nonfiction to understand the oppressive realities of patriarchy, prostitution, and modern porn culture. That level of understanding is nowhere here in this YA novel.

Instead, the reader is presented with Dulsia.

And later, the reader is presented with a Happy Disabled Man named Josquin. Josquin's family hires Tess to be his personal aide, to bathe him and help him with personal care. Josquin is approximately thirty years old, and became disabled as a young man in his twenties. Tess observes that "he had a variety of apparatuses that helped him live -- braces, tubes, catheters" -- and he also uses a wheelchair that makes him look like "a man with eight legs" (page 428). The device scares Tess when they meet: "First she saw that the spider legs belonged not to the man but to an iron chair he was sitting in; his own legs, thin as sticks, were curled under him" (page 428). As Tess spends many weeks (months?) working for Josquin and being paid by his family, she develops a strong sexual attraction for him.

Because everyone in this book seems to be a caricature or a vile piece of sh*t, when Tess finally gains the courage to lie down beside Josquin in bed, and kiss him, he responds by immediately needing to know if Tess is a virgin or not (page 454).

It's hard to say what enrages me more: the happy prostitute in this book, the lack of ANY religious ableism in this extremely body-hating/woman-hating world full of fantasy-Catholicism, the fact that Josquin is a well-adjusted Happy Disabled Man in this 1650s-esque body-shaming world, or the fact that his reaction to his first kiss with Tess is to demand to know whether this is her "first time" or not (page 454).

YA books seem more than happy to insist that a kiss immediately leads to f*cking on the page.

YA books seem to insist that all men need to be obsessed with finding out whether they are f*cking a virgin or not.

YA books never seem to question the fact that stopping a romantic kiss to demand information about virginity is something that only an asshole would do.

To no one's surprise, Josquin's need to know the status of Tess's nonexistent virginity puts an end to the passion of their first kiss, and the two do not have sex for quite a long time after that (weeks, maybe months).

Eventually, Tess and Josquin do have sex in a bathtub, which is described in this way: "She caught him in her arms [as he was getting into the tub] and kissed him again, and together they were broken/unbroken. All/nothing. And any chasms left between were swiftly bridged." (page 466)

That is the extent of the sex scene, and all erotic content, between these two characters.

Although Josquin and Tess fall in love and have sex, Josquin happily encourages Tess to continue her journey "on the road" while he stays at home with his wheelchair. "How could I keep you from it, in good conscience?" he asks Tess, as he tells her to return to her journeys (page 497). When Tess promises to come back, Josquin says, "I know you will. And you'll have had other paramours by then, and so will I, and we will be dear old friends, happy to see each other, full of wondrous stories." (page 497)

They kiss one last time, and then Tess leaves and continues her journey on the road, to eventually meet up with the woman who first offered her a job on page 59.

Thank you, Happy Disabled Man, for serving your healing-sex purpose with Tess, and then encouraging her to pursue her able-bodied adventures without you.

In contrast, consider the ending of "Jane Eyre" -- the book ends with Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester united, a team who can travel together, have a family together, and love each other always. Jane marries Rochester when he is blind and one-handed, and she chooses to assist him with walks, reading, and other activities, through a sense of love and companionship. Edward Rochester only recovers some of his sight in one eye two years after their marriage. True to the story's time period and setting (early 1800s England; the novel was published in 1847), Edward Rochester situates the harm that has befallen his body into the religious context of his Christian worldview. There is none of that going on in "Tess of the Road." Josquin's character is a non-suicidal version of Will Traynor in "Me Before You." While it is nice to see a non-suicidal disabled character in a work of modern fiction, I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't make me profoundly sad that the able-bodied Tess has "better things to do" than spend her life with her disabled lover.

Tess's pregnancy at fifteen was a result of being raped by a boy named Will. Their first sexual encounter was rape, and Tess stayed with Will for "eight months" after that. Tess never uses the word "rape" to describe what happened to her (and neither does anyone else), even in the closing pages when the truth finally comes out. I understand that this is true for a lot of rape victims: to give up all agency over our lives and admit that events were completely out of our control is terrifying, and people are loathe to do this.

But in a novel full of so much misogyny, I really needed more from Tess's final conclusions regarding the event (birthing a child out of wedlock) that changed the entire course of her life. She was raped at age 14 or 15, her family and her society placed ALL of the blame upon Tess, the baby was born premature and died three days after birth, and NO ONE offered a SHRED of compassion to Tess. She was further traumatized and victimized by everyone in her family and her society. Everyone around her was uncaring and cruel, and while I don't blame Tess for developing a drinking problem by age seventeen, I really wish she had run away from her family before her baby was born, at age fifteen, rather than compounding her extreme suffering by waiting two years.

"Tess of the Road" is an incredibly difficult story to read. The main character has been deeply traumatized, and the novel is a long, slow revealing of that trauma, as well as Tess's journey to heal.

If you don't mind the tropes of "happy prostitutes as the voices of sex positivity," "happy disabled men who cheer on their able-bodied lovers to have able-bodied adventures without them," "healing sex for female rape victims," and tropes I can't even name because I skim-read large chunks of this book, then you will most likely enjoy "Tess of the Road."

I would have never picked this book up if a dragon had not been on the cover. I wish I could scrub this book out of my mind. But alas, I wanted to read about dragons. My loss.
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,766 reviews589 followers
January 14, 2018
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

Tess, the main character is proof that we are NOT cut from the same cloth, that we all dance to the beat of a different drum and that no matter how hard one tries, that square peg will never fit into that round hole of conformity. Unfortunately for Tess, in the medieval kingdom of Goredd, that is totally and completely unacceptable for a “lady.” Rebellious acts, even if justified have consequences and Tess has spent her life facing them, head on, but she is who she is, period. The final straw came that sent Tess on a journey to find herself, her place in life and a purpose to go on.

TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachel Hartman is NOT light reading or even easy to read at times. Ms. Hartman can write, there is no doubt, but the chaos that is Tess’s life and the dark and heavy feel to this tale is too weighty to be immersed into.

Tess is NOT the misunderstood victim, nor is she the perfect heroine. She is flawed and has some serious self-image issues that show in the way she acts out at times. She also seems almost to flaunt her “differences” with her actions instead of trying a little self-control. There were times I felt I was not being allowed to be “in the story” but being held outside of it. Perhaps it was my own misinterpretation of feeling I was being told, not been shown what is going on.

All told, in spite of some very nice writing, this dark and emotionally draining tale just wasn’t my cup of tea, it was far too bitter for my taste.

I received a complimentary ARC edition from Random House Children's. This is my voluntary review.

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (February 27, 2018)
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Genre: YA Fantasy | Coming of Age
Print Length: 544 pages
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
For Reviews & More: http://tometender.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Juli.
1,879 reviews474 followers
March 1, 2018
Tessie was born a troublemaker. She is curious and outspoken, which often gets her in trouble. I had to chuckle when reading the intro to this story. Her sister calls her a "spank magnet.'' But it's definitely true....Tessie has a great talent for getting into trouble. After a bad scene at her twin sister's wedding where she punched a priest (he really did deserve it), she decides to set out on her own to avoid being sent to a convent. She disguises herself as a boy and leaves her home.

Tess of the Road is set in the same world as two of Hartman's previous novels, Seraphina and Shadow Scale. I think I would have understood and enjoyed this story more if I had first read the other books. But despite the fact that I didn't understand a few things from the previous stories, I still enjoyed this book. It's dark in places....but....the writing is great, the story is good, and I love the main character. Tess is feisty, intelligent and does things her way.

Tess of the Road is both an adventure tale and a coming-of-age story. Tess has to find herself and a purpose for her life. It was so interesting to read about her learning to experience the world and finding her place in it. Tess grows as a person throughout the story. She's a very strong main character...it was easy to root for her as she got into some scrapes and difficult situations.

Great book! I loved the humor, adventure and vivid details in this story! I'm going to backtrack and read the Seraphina novels, and then re-read this one. An enjoyable story, but I think I will enjoy it more after reading the previous books.

The cover art for this book is awesome!!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
Profile Image for Chelsies Reading Escape.
631 reviews363 followers
Want to read
April 14, 2018
Forgot to update this but I received my goodreads giveaway copy at the beginning of March I believe. Very happy to finally have it in my hands. Now I have the perfect excuse to listen to the audiobook of Seraphina from my library.

UPDATE FEB 5TH: Still no book.

Won a copy in a goodreads giveaway but havent received it yet and that was December 22nd.
Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,317 followers
Want to read
December 19, 2021
I just realized I have 3 unread Rachel Hartman books so I should probably do something about that
Profile Image for Melissa Jacobson.
860 reviews136 followers
March 19, 2018
Guysssssss. THIS. BOOK. This surpassed all expectations I had for this story. Tess is such a wonderfully flawed character and her healing journey broke my heart over and over again. I cam genuinely say she is one of my absolute favorite main characters in a book now.

This book tackles so many important and hard topics that I am deeply passionate about. Religion, slut-shaming, the glorification of virginity, and the dissection of rape culture. Not even to mention the poignant commentary on parenting. this book shattered me and I adored every word. Please do yourself a favor and read the Seraphina duology then dive into this book. You won't regret it!

Booktalk - https://youtu.be/klglH50UvTA
Profile Image for Misty.
796 reviews1,230 followers
January 9, 2018
You guys.
I loved Seraphina, don't get me wrong, but HOLY SHIT, DO I EVER LOVE TESS.

I'll have a full review up soon, but until then, I recommend I recommend I recommend I recommend.
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,165 followers
March 7, 2018
Rachel Hartman's latest is nothing short of epic. While I whole-heartedly admit that this novel is a little too long for my liking--I would have benefited with many condensed scenes, particularly on Tess's travels--its core message is too important to ignore. Hartman does what some of the best writers in fantasy do: she creates a world that is wholly different from our own and yet, it parallels our universe in important ways that she exploits to make stronger statements about our society and the realities we blindly accept.

In Tess of the Road, Hartman explores rape culture and the shaming of the female body. Tess, Seraphina's half-sister, has always believed that she's the bad twin since birth. Her sister Jeanne seems able to follow instructions and stay out of trouble with no effort while Tess is constantly being spanked, labeled a sinner, and lectured on the disgusting nature of the female body. For me, the beginning of this story is where it's strongest; forcing our hearts to beat as one with Tess's while re-creating this richly imagined world of religion and dragons.

After one mistake too many, Tess runs away to seek the legends of her childhood, the World Serpents. Her journey isn't, IMO, the most exciting but her growth is absolutely remarkable. Hartman reveals different aspects of Tess's past slowly, over the course of the novel, and it makes her journey all the more rewarding for it. Everyone, from the secondary characters to others we merely pass by on the Road, are richly imagined and contribute in some way to a new understanding of the world that Tess is grappling with.

Needless to say, I loved this book. I don't think it will be for everyone, but if you're a fan of slow-moving, character-driven fantasy novels with minimal romance and plenty of heart, then read Tess's story. It's guaranteed to pull at heartstrings, if nothing else, and make you reflect on our own world, at best.
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
596 reviews816 followers
May 11, 2020
another update: the second book has been removed from Goodreads WHAT DOES THIS MEAN i'm so sad y'all

update: WHEN IS THE NEXT BOOK COMING OUT SERIOUSLY. this book has stuck with me for a WHOLE YEAR and i'm just perpetually waiting for book 2??? I want it so badly idek why but like...I loved Tess.

After reading a few of the reviews, I ended up being unsure of if I was going to enjoy this or not, but I jumped in anyways.

And I'm so glad I did.

Although this is the spinoff to Seraphina, you don't have to read Seraphina to read it. I haven't (but now I want to). The books are very different and if you're expecting something similar to Seraphina, throw that notion out the window and off the penthouse floor now.

Because this is Tess, not Seraphina, and she's going through vastly different struggles. (Vastly different struggles which I loved, that is.)

If you're looking for political intrigue and action and fantasy adventure, you won't really be getting that. But if you're looking for a character who's growing up, a journey to find oneself, an adventure where you don't know where you might end up, then Tess of the Road should be right up your ally.

And even if you're not looking for those things, I think you should still check this out.

Because it's a coming-of-age story wrapped in a fantasy world, and what's better than a coming-of-age? It's relatable on all levels to people of all ages.

And Tess is our troubled main character who's taken to the Road to find herself--because where she was before definitely wasn't the right place for her.

I do think, before we go to all the gushing (which will definitely be coming), I should address the one thing that dropped this book down a notch:

The length.

It was much longer than I think was necessary. The beginning especially was much longer than it could have been and I feel like it would help if it was condensed.

The first paragraph of the summary? Well, that's basically the first 100-something pages of the 500-something pages of the book.

I can't really pinpoint where it could be condensed except for the beginning. Dropping us off in some action or shortening the exposition would have been very helpful in just making this easily digestible and preventing DNFs.

But, I do appreciate how Hartman set up the world and introduced it to new readers like me who are unfamiliar with anything in this world.

So although it was helpful to me and I didn't mind the length too much, I know some people will think it's redundant and dragging.

But the book slowly got better and it worked with so many important and interesting themes. It's very much a book of buildup, adding layers and layers of history and different themes and feelings on top of each other and then peeling them away and spurring on change.

Tess deals with everything from body positivity/sex/romance to something I'm not going to spoil to figuring out her purpose to dealing with her family. There are so many different layers to this book and it's hard to explain how they build up.

But I found it all to be very cohesive, each piece intersecting with the next and working together like gears in a clock. The whole novel just worked and that's really what I liked about it.

It's all very character based and although things happen, it wasn't like there was this one-track plot to "win the competition" or "stop the war" or some other common fantasy trope. It's just not very fantastical--there are different species (dragons, quigutl, World Serpents, etc.) but it's mostly about a girl on a journey, discovering who she is.

I ended up really enjoying this and hope that there's a second book in store for us all because Tess isn't done growing and I have high hopes for what else she'll discover. I would definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporaries, not fantasies (although if you like fantasies, still check this out) and I think anyone will fall in love with Tess and her journey if you give her the chance.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,632 followers
April 11, 2018
Set against a fantastical backdrop of dragons, quigutl, and mighty world serpents, this companion book to Seraphina and Shadow Scale is a very important look at what it means to come of age for a young woman in a strictly ordered society. Consent, rape, and sexuality are all discussed very frankly, though not graphically or gratuitously. You instantly feel for Tess and support her on her journey, both to discover if the great serpents of legend are real, and to discover if she is a "good" person and one worthy of love and respect. (Spoiler, yes she is.)

I had a hard time with how incredibly awful most of her family is and continued to be. I know there's not always closure and a comeuppance for nasty people in the real world, but this was fiction so I was hoping for a little more contrition from a few of these players. Also, speaking of fiction: Some of this was very realistic, which clashed a bit for me in how neatly some of this fell into place otherwise. Tess encountered people who could help her in different ways, at just the right time, and it was sort of preachy without being preachy, if that makes sense. Lecture-y? Which made me think that we would all get to hold hands and sing Kumbaya at the end, so that was a bit of a drawback for me.

But overall, I think this is a very interesting addition both to Hartman's world of humans and dragons, as well as being an excellent book for teens to have a good conversation about self worth and consent.
Profile Image for Dani ❤️ Perspective of a Writer.
1,512 reviews5 followers
February 26, 2018
Check out more reviews @ Perspective of a Writer...

In this medieval fantasy world of Seraphina fame, Tess is a stubborn troublemaker. She refuses the opportunities she does have to hare off into the world. When she runs into an old friend, a quigutl, she finds a purpose that hearkens back to the dreams of her youth.

The short review...

First I feel a need to explain my rating... the writing is top notch, clearly a 5 star... the storytelling though leaves a lot to be desired, a 1 star and perhaps even a zero star... That is how much I disliked Tess, her journey, her attitude and this book. I could almost leave it at that, I have wasted enough of my life on this aimless, wandering, nothing of a book, but as a reviewer I'd like to share why I feel this way so you can gauge whether you'd in turn love it...

Tess is a supremely modern girl birthed into a world specifically to be in conflict with it. Part of a person's growth is nurture and part of it is nature... she is ALL nature (which is quite unnatural). She was irritating to me even though I didn't necessarily agree with those she was fighting... I just didn't want to be on her side! I couldn't relate to her jealousy of Seraphina, I couldn't relate to the situation she got herself into (though it is horrible she had no one she could tell) and I couldn't relate to her choosing the road over fulfilling her mega dream of all time.

All's well that ends well doesn't cut it, the journey was miserable, the dragons disappointing and while I can appreciate all the people she met along the way it didn't change how I felt about Tess. This felt like a soap box of a book... and setting it in a fantasy world with a dragon didn't help the story one second!

Cover & Title grade -> A+

This cover is so deceptive!! You believe from its beauty that this will be a roadtrip to end all roadtrips and with a... DRAGON! Yeah, no... Well sort of. It indeed has a quigutl or a subspecies of dragon (think lizard compared to a dragon, dragon)... but it doesn't really embody the shape as presented... The thing is this cover DOES ITS JOB! It got me to pick up the book... it is gorgeous and you want a book that has such a cover... even if it ended up disappointing you.

Why do I HATE this book, but you may LOVE it?

-The writing was excellent!
Tess wasn't inconsistent, she was true to the character that was presented... All the modern philosophy babble was woven into Tess' thinking and filtered into her actions. As a writer I admired the skill this took. I can say this author wrote this from her heart. YET I COULD NOT RELATE TO TESS!! She seemed to fit her nickname which meant stupid.

-A modern feminist outlook set in a fantasy world.
This entire story was designed to pit modern thinking against "old world" ideas that can be said to be embodied in fantasy worlds. Tess has sex at 13 years old, and is taught how she can be sexually active without getting pregnant. Her period is mentioned often. And she has a consultation with a whore (her word) about how to pleasure herself. She spends a lot of time drunk out of her mind. IF I WANTED TO READ ABOUT THIS I WOULD READ ADULT BOOKS!! YA books can be a vehicle to teach girls but not at the expense of the story entertaining us...

-A journey to find and forgive herself.
If you are excited about anything in the above passage then this will EXCITE you further... The plot was very loose as Tess is really on an exploratory journey to find herself. She can't do this as a woman so the ENTIRE book she poses as a man. Honestly not much happens that can be called fantasy (there is a tiny portion at the end) but it's all about the mistakes Tess made and how they weren't really mistakes but unhappiness at society. The end is happy as this is resolved! BUT FANTASY STORY IT DOES NOT MAKE... The cover says fantasy and dragons and it just wasn't compelling... in fact, the dragon part made me sick... at Tess and the author.

As a Writer...

As a writer I'm pretty split on this book hence my 2.5 star rating... I HATED it... thought about DNFing it except I was determined to resolve that gorgeous cover with whatever dragon appeared. I really, really LOVE the idea of a girl dressing as a man so as to find who she is as a woman. I understand that this type of mold breaking character will make a ton of mistakes... BUT FREAKING MAKE ME CARE ABOUT HER FIRST!!!

While the establishing of a world and the creation of a character is important... if the reader doesn't give a fig about the character then they don't get your soap box messages. You want to root for your MC, whether they are morally grey, evil or a goody two shoes, doesn't matter! MAKE ME CARE... even reluctantly coming to like Tess would have turned this book around for me... BUT by the end I was fed up with her and good riddance I say...

If you LOVE the idea of a modern girl set in a medieval world... if you want to witness that epic battle of wills then this book is for you!! There are many modern messages that are crammed into the story and play out so that Tess can find the modern woman she is... You can count on it!!

⋆ ⋆ ⋆⭐⭐ Authenticity
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing Style
⋆ ⋆ ⋆⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
⋆ ⋆⭐⭐⭐ World Building

BOTTOM LINE: Modern Girl Takes to the Road in a Medieval World.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. It has not influenced my opinions.

You can find this review and many others on my book blog @ Perspective of a Writer. See my special perspective at the bottom of my reviews under the typewriter...
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
546 reviews104 followers
July 7, 2019
To all the spank-magnet girls out there who grew up to be difficult and determined women.

judy garland out-pirates gene kelly
Judy Garland knows how to treat a pirate. Even if he's Gene Kelly in an Inigo Montoya mustache.

Especially to those of you who wanted to be pirates: Rachel Hartman's got your back. Tess shows the heroism that lurks in the hearts of the Lucy van Pelts, the not-so-ugly stepsisters, the tough girls, and those fab science-nerd girls.

I bought a copy for my teenage daughter & firmly believe you should get a copy for yours.

keywords: dayumn where's the sequel? finished it, turned around and read it again; read Seraphina too and you won't be sorry; St. Rebecca's magic basket loves you; the opposite of dirt
Profile Image for R.F. Gammon.
490 reviews176 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
January 18, 2019
Life is short; this book is not. I’m all for a good character driven book and a beautiful cover, but because I felt absolutely no connection with the characters, I won’t be finishing this one.
Profile Image for Justine.
245 reviews130 followers
February 2, 2022
This is the feminist masterpiece I’ve long wanted to see in YA. Tess of the Road is a unique kind of YA fantasy. It’s both a coming of age story about a young girl dealing with a troubled past and also an exciting road trip adventure across different kingdoms. And it does both of these things masterfully.

I don’t know how this book did it, but I felt extremely emotional reading Tess of the Road. The last time a female protagonist’s story moved me like this was with Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue. It’s not really a mystery figuring out why Tess is angry at the world, but the careful unraveling of the trauma she endured made me feel raw. There were moments when I wished I could leap into this fictional world and hug Tess myself. I wanted her to succeed, heal from this trauma and find happiness.

Tess of the Road delivers on this front. What I loved about Tess of the Road is its hopeful belief in the reparative power of people and communities. When Tess runs away from her suffocating home, she meets many kinds of people who unexpectedly teach her something about life and offer her comfort from the horrors of this world. From Mother Philomela to the group of men she works with on the road, Tess manages to find communities who bring out the best in her — people who love her and support her without asking anything in return. And Tess thrives in part because of these acts of kindness and the epiphanies she gathers from talking with people from all walks of life.

This message of hope and reparation is something that’s badly needed in feminist literature. Most feminist stories these days fall under what Eve Sedgwick calls “paranoid orientation” in feminist theory. Many feminist narratives have such a dire view of womanhood under patriarchy and men sometimes become nothing more than villains that seek to terrorize women. Tess of the Road offers an alternative to this narrative by showing that there’s still a lot of good in this world and if you give people around you a chance, you might discover that their personal story isn’t really so different from yours. I find it encouraging that in Tess of the Road, many male characters are not only complex, but they’re also a source of refuge and comfort for Tess. I was so moved for instance when Josquin patiently listens to Tess discussing her traumatic past and he gives her the emotional support she needs. From there, he respects her boundaries and asks her every step of the way if she feels safe and happy with him. Hartman’s depiction of healthy male-female relationships and friendships made me rejoice with happiness because we need more reparative relationship dynamics like this in YA. As Eve Sedgwick would say, narratives that operate under paranoia and direness have already been done to death. The real challenge is to create literature that offers new frameworks of thinking. We need new stories and critical scholarship that attempt to conceive and conceptualize what real love, happiness and reparation might look like even under existing systems of oppression. Tess of the Road is a great example of what reparative literature could be like.

But besides the emotional aspect of the novel (which is what got to me the most), I also think this road-trip adventure is exhilarating. Discovering World Serpents and new worlds and interacting with quigutl and half-dragons is an experience like no other and I believe it’s all because of Hartman’s superb storytelling and immersive word-building. I cannot recommend this novel enough. An author that masterfully combines fantasy with contemporary issues deserves all the stars. It’s my favorite fantasy read of the year so far (on par with Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves and perhaps this novel might have even surpassed that). It’s a story that will stay in my heart.

Side-note: coming of age + road-trip adventures set in fantasy lands must be my new kind of jam. If anyone has recommendations, let me know!

Side-note 2: If you liked Tess of the Road, I recommend Helene Wecker’s Golem and the Jinni. Both books have interesting fantasy elements, superb writing and protagonists (who are outsiders) trying to find their way in the world.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
February 18, 2018
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/02/18/...

I enjoyed Tess of the Road more than I expected, but probably less than I had hoped. I wasn’t a big fan of Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina duology when I read it, but nevertheless felt optimistic about her new book because I have a love for “wanderlust” stories and the description of Tess as a “troublemaker” immediately piqued my interest.

To her credit, our protagonist was living up to that promise from the start. When she was a little girl, Tess was caught trying to stage a pretend marriage between her twin sister and cousin because she wanted to know where babies came from. Just a child’s innocent curiosity, perhaps—but it does foreshadow a lot more to come. Years pass, and all of Tess’s energies have turned towards helping her sister Jeanne find a good husband, having ruined her own prospects in the eyes of her family. Society now considers her “damaged goods”, and Tess is forced to hide her past like a shameful secret. Lashing out at Jeanne’s wedding, she winds up drinking too much and causing a scene, jeopardizing the entire marriage. Driven to her last nerve, her mother decides to send her to a convent, but before any arrangements could be made, Tess dons the disguise of a boy and runs away, taking to the road.

What follows is an almost episodic narrative that traces the ups and downs of Tess’s journey as she travels across the land, meeting new people and trying new experiences. It is also a deeply personal tale of self-discovery and coming to terms with one’s own past.

The problem, however, is the book’s structure, consisting of a present timeline with flashbacks inserted throughout, revealing the events which made Tess such a social pariah and why her own family holds her in such contempt. In truth, it is not hard to guess; as I said, there were plenty of hints provided in the early pages. But knowing exactly what happened makes Tess a more sympathetic character and easier to understand, and unfortunately, these important details are held back until late into the novel. In light of these revelations, Tess’s troubled personality is cast in a different light, but of course, by then it might be too late for readers who have already made up their minds about her character.

The “episodic” nature of Tess’s adventures also made the pacing feel uneven. Some parts of the story, especially in the middle of the novel, were slow and I had some difficulty trying to stay focused. Most of the time, I just found myself hoping for another flashback so that I could find out more about Tess’s past. To be fair, the book did pick up again near the end with the introduction of Josquin, though by then my attention had already been severely tested.

Finally, Tess of the Road is a very “mature” book, dealing with a lot of issues modern teens face today. Personally, this made the story a much more compelling read, though I fear these themes might lose a bit of their significance due to the fantasy context, or they could potentially become a mere distraction to those who rightfully just want a bit of escapism. In a way, some of the novel’s greatest strengths are also its biggest drawbacks, and the mixed response from the YA community now makes a lot more sense to me.

Despite some of my mixed feelings, I’m still very excited to read the sequel. The book ends on a high note just as things were becoming interesting, promising more excitement in Tess’s future. For better or worse, I don’t think the next volume will focus as much on our protagonist’s inner turmoil, considering how far she has come in this first book with regards to realizing her own self-worth. As long as Tess continues to travel and grow as a character though, I can definitely get behind a more adventurous and action-oriented sequel.
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