review: tess of the road

In Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess sets out to instantly subvert this order of things as soon as she can, and of course has many great adventures on the way as she comes of age on the Road.

Tess of the Road opened with a young Tess attempting to marry her twin sister Jeanne to their cousin/uncle Kenneth in an effort to discover how babies are made. It neatly transitioned into Tess, years older and (maybe) wiser, still marrying her sister off, although she’s already discovered how babies are made firsthand. Then, the real story began.

Tess promptly ruins the wedding and upsets everyone and takes the social disaster as the perfect opportunity to walk away from it all, prompted by the gift of a spectacular pair of boots. Along the Road, Tess finds new friends and old, and has a variety of adventures that unlock new facets of herself, all while pretending to anyone but who she really is, but most often, Brother Jacomo.

Overall, I liked the concept of this novel and, the more I think about it, I both admire and love the fact that Rachel Hartman tackled some truly thorny topics in this book (many of which were made even more relevant but the constant political train wreck of current US politics). She tackles consent and rape, teenage motherhood, and the hard task of confronting your own demons, whether you created them or not. This I all found to be extremely admirable and respect the hell out of Hartman for doing it.

However, I thought the execution itself did not always live up to the great task at hand. The story often dragged on, and the plot sometimes seemed to disappear entirely as Tess meandered down her Road, only “walking on” and not doing a whole lot else. Plots would get picked up and abandoned, only to be halfway tied up many chapters later. And, during moments that could have been poignant, I felt as though the novel slipped into a bad habit of telling us that Tess had grown in that moment, rather than showing her growth as it had happened. This trend in particular was awfully distressing to me–I liked Tess and wanted to work through her revelations with her, rather than having her accomplishments listed after the fact.

Perhaps if I had read Seraphina first, I would have enjoyed Tess more. Alas, I discovered Tess first, so here we are (although I did buy Seraphina the other day, and am looking forward to starting it!). It may also have been that this was advertised as a Teens & YA book, and wasn’t quite expecting the kick in the feels that came with it. Whatever the root cause, Tess of the Road was not my favorite read, but definitely brought up some very important topics nonetheless.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the Advanced Copy!

Tess of the Road, written by Rachel Hartman, will be published on February 27th, 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers. 





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