Tess of the Road, Rachel Hartman – Book Review

Hello humans! It’s no secret that I adore both Seraphina and Shadow Scale for many reasons, but largely the dragons. So as soon as I realised there was going to be another book in the same setting I was the most excited I had been for a long time. I pre-ordered it instantly and basically sat in front of the door until it arrived. I knew I would be getting an amazing book, but I had no idea quite what I was getting myself in for!

Tess of the Road Rachel Hartman

Goodreads Summary:

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.

Find Tess of the Road on Goodreads

This book is more than just a fantasy novel about a runaway girl, though that is the framework used. This is an exploration of the expectations we place upon women (particularly young women) and the way we treat them when they fall short of these (unreasonable) expectations. I think this is such an important book. In my opinion, it’s as powerful a message as that in The Exact Opposite of Okay but in a medieval fantasy setting. It’s one of my favourite examples of using a fictional setting to explore real-world issues. I think this is a great way of shining a light on the hypocrisy and double standards in our own society.

I think it helps that Tess doesn’t start this story with all the answers. As the journey progresses she comes to realise her own internalised shame and starts to work through why that is complete rubbish. It’s a lesson the reader learns alongside her, slowly revealing more and more of the story until the truth is unveiled. Even if you’re fairly au fait with feminist ideas this story is a great way of enforcing them, and there is always more to learn. I could go on for hours about how important the underlying message of this book is, but you know I’m dying to talk about the dragons.

There are very few dragons in this book. What? How can this be? How can you possibly enjoy this book if there are so few dragons? Well firstly, there are kind of dragons – the quigutl with whom Tess travels. While we don’t have enormous winged lizards it isn’t incongruous, it still feels the same world as that in Seraphina and my fantasy beasts quota was most certainly filled.

I think that the way this book slots into the world of Seraphina is excellently done. Seraphina herself appears at several points, and you do get some sense of what her life has been like since the end of the duology. I also appreciated the insights into Seraphina’s childhood from Tess’ point of view. I was reminded a lot of The Inheritance Cycle, not because of the dragons but because of how well thought out this world and this timeline were.

This is a book for anyone who has ever found themselves plagued by self-doubt or wanderlust. It’s a coming-of-age story better than almost any I have read before. I adored this book and I can’t wait to read it again. I can only hope there is at least one more book in this series…please?

My rating: 5/5 stars

All opinions are my own.

What say you? Are you planning on reading Tess of the Road? Let me know in the comments below!


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