Book review · novel

Book review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman

tess-of-the-road_final-08-17-171-1.jpgDescription: (from Penguin Random House)

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she’s done is so disgraceful, she can’t even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess’s family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.

But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She’s not running away, she’s running towards something. What that something is, she doesn’t know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else–a life where she might belong.

Expected publication: February 27th 2018.
A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley. Some things might change in the final copy.

FIRST: O-M-G this cover might be my favourite, I love it a lot and can’t take my eyes off of it.

I have conflicted feelings about Tess of the Road so please indugle me and excuse me if this all comes a little bit disjointed. I had quite a rocky start with this novel and there are several reasons for that.
I still want to say up here that ultimately, seeing where the author was going with this all, I was won over by what this book turned out to be.
The main themes of the novel are teen pregnancy, being a girl in a very mysogynistic fantasy world, trauma, healing through traveling. Most of all, this novel tackles rape culture.

The first thing that bothered me was that while I tried, I couldn’t connect to Tess in the beginning. I still feel bitter about the way Seraphina was portrayed but I cannot say I didn’t like Tess because she’s a very complex character, one we so rarely find in YA fantasy: a girl who made many mistakes, a girl with a giant heart and conscience, who’s trying to do good and fight against what she’s been taught. In her journey, Tess will grow a lot and will be confronted to her prejudiced views and the way it made her see herself, she will learn from that, often in a hard way.

I do understand how interesting it is that a beloved main character from a previous book is seen on a totally different light here, to see that the character you were rooting for is not the same person in another’s eyes. But it made for a difficult realisation.

For the writing, I didn’t love the many flashbacks and the way some sort of reveal on something everyone could guess early on is revealed, it was a bit annoying. I understand it is to stick to Tess’s state of mind and slow coming to term with what happened; but it just made the reveal drag on and I was looking forward for the story to really start, the set up is a bit long but also necessary? *I am still confused about my feelings to be honest*

Another important thing about Tess is that she’s a twin. At first it feels like she’s the “bad” one and her sister’s the good one, which from what I read is a trope frown upon by real twins. But it is also something that the story tackles later on.

Tess is one of these characters that I couldn’t help but like when I began to understand her better. Her love of animals and especially of megafauna was heart warming. She is a very passionate person and that’s the main point that made me warm up to her.

I also loved the conversation about linguistics and the difficulty of translation between two languages and cultures that have such different concepts.

The book addresses a lot of very important subjects, like the matter of periods while traveling in a medieval-fantasy world, contraception, masturbation, triggers, prostitution, genders and sexualities.

In the end, most of my first issues with the novel were addressed, and the things that were a matter of personnal opinion were also narrative choices that I understood to some degress. But I am sadden at how late some things were addressed or undone, because I could have stopped reading anytime and not known what treasure this book was holding.

While it took its sweet time to get there, I’m glad I decided to give this book a chance. In a way that book is like Tess herself, hard to get around at first, full of contradictions and off-putting, but impossible de hate. Still, Tess and the novel itself grew on me and won me over, despite my first disapproval and disappointment. I’m not forgetting the things that I didn’t like, but if at the beginning I thought the bad outweighed the good, in the end I can say the good outweighed the bad and I just cannot regret reading this.

This novel begs a bit of faith from the reader, and shouldn’t expect it, but I gave it and was rewarded for it. Now I can only tell fellow readers that I took the leap and can vouch in some ways that this book isn’t entirely terrible and can even be worth the read if you are ready for the punch it’ll deliver to your feelings and expectations. You might end up disappointed if you enter this book looking for action, adventure and dragons. This is more of an internal journey, a psychological and hard look at the society of this medieval fantasy world but also at our own.

So yeah, the novel relies too heavily on the reader’s trust and faith, it is a very draining novel, not a light read at all, but still an important one.

A quick last thing: I read Seraphina but not not Shadow Scale, and I feel I should have because as much as this book tries to stand on its own and to remind the reader really quick of the political situation and previous events, it’s not always very clear and I’m sure I would have enjoyed some things way more.

So with the accurate warnings beforehand, this book could do a lot of good. But think of the warnings before recommending this book because the subjects are so so heavy and could be dangerously triggering to some readers.

(I still feel like I could go on and on discussing this book but this is already WAY too long I’ll stop here!)

Content warnings: suicidal ideation/planning, rape, pregnancy/delivery, miscarriage, slut-shaming, deaths
To be honest I might even be forgetting some, I’d recommend checking other reviews just in case.

10 thoughts on “Book review: Tess of the Road

  1. Ooh I love the cover for this one and am intrigued by its plot as well. Sounds like a book that has its flaws but still tells a pretty interesting story. Will definitely have to put it on my to-read list, it sounds a little dark and heavy but still worth reading.


  2. I enjoyed this, though I can also see why so many people had issues with it. I could appreciate what Hartman was trying to do with Tess, though the execution itself was kind of flawed. I think she made the character too unlikable at the beginning, and by the time the flashback reveals came around, it was a bit too late for some.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep I 100% agree with you on this. For someone who already read her previous book it leads us to have faith in what’s to follow I guess but for a newcomer it might be a deal breaker

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The cover really is the best! 😍
    I don’t remember much from Shadow Scale (or Seraphina, tbh), so I hope that won’t be too much of a problem.
    I have to admit, I HATE seeing my favorite characters through other, less-favorable eyes. That happens in Tamora Pierce’s Tricker’s Choice series, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t love it as much as her original three quartets. We’ll see if that becomes a deal breaker for me in this book!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is! I’m pretty sure I’ll get myself a copy when it’s out in paperback because it’s a work of art!

      It definitely is not a problem but when the events are recalled, it feels a bit too fast ? I don’t know! I should read Shadow Scale because what is revealed had me “!!!!!!!” haha!

      I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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