Tess Of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Publication Date February 27, 2018 (US)
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Arc was provided by Random House Books for Young Readers via Netgalley for an honest review.
I was totally enthralled by this book and Tess’s journey almost from the start. It is a bit slow to start, but as the journey begins, so does the best part of the Tess’s story. Rachel Hartman has created a very strong female character, who is trying desperately to put her past behind her and to move forward everyday. I was a little worried that it had been such a long time since I read the other two books set in this world that I would be a little lost, but you don’t have to have read those books to enjoy this one. This one stands quite well on it’s own, even though it does have appearances from characters from those books.
From my quick glance at other reviews, not many people like Tess. I found her completely likable, and a very interesting character. She is a product of her upbringing, but she desperately wants to break away from that and become her own person, and I think by the end she does just that. She is a strong female character, that pretends to be a young man through most of the book, because she realizes how dangerous it would be to travel as a young woman alone. There is also a great scene towards the end of the book when she explains the two male personas she creates on her journey and why she needs them. I won’t spoil it by telling you, but it was a masterful insight on her part. Tess also doesn’t travel just to get away from her family and her past, but she soon realizes that she needs to help people along the way. Tess often appears to be selfish and acerbic in nature, but she does have a desire to do what she sees as right and to help those that she sees as being either helpless or wronged in some way. Tess has many flaws, but I can’t help but like her.
Pathka is also an interesting character, not only because he is a quigutl, but because he helps Tess in many ways and adds purpose to her journey. He also is quite essential to her survival at the start of their journey together. I find the quigutl almost more fascinating than the dragons in this world. They are smart, but also have a connection to each other that is interesting and complex. Their understanding of the world is also complex as well as their beliefs. Hearing Pathka interpret what is going on around them and with what has happened to Tess is wonderful. He is very insightful, although most humans and even dragons consider them almost unworthy of their attention.
I love the way that Rachel Hartman writes. It is never your typical story and at it’s heart is also very meaningful and almost religious in nature. Although the pacing might be considered slow by some, there is always something going on and moving the story along. Her characters are also very well rounded and complex, even the ones that you don’t like very much. There is a rich assortment of secondary characters that you also feel you get to know, even when they are only a small part of the story.
There are many times when Tess reminiscences about her family and what happened to her that made her family want to send her to a nunnery ( and no it was not punching the priest in the nose, it is much bigger than that). But these memories never felt unnecessary and were always placed into the story in ways that felt right. You might want to call them flashbacks, but they really weren’t, they were Tess remembering particular events in her life that impacted her development into who she is at that particular time.
I found this book to be thought provoking and empowering. I think a lot of young women will like Tess and will see themselves in her. It was a very enjoyable journey for me to walk along the road with Tess and her journey to accepting herself as she is and learning to stand up for herself. I can’t wait to see where her journey will lead her next.