ARC Review: Tess of the Road

Title: Tess of the Road

Author: Rachel Hartman
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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. 

Lovely! Lots of nods to Seraphina but not so much that you feel lost if it's been a while (4 years or so for me!). Tess grows up so much throughout this book, and it's interesting to see more of the quigtl and corners of the world that Seraphina didn't explore. It's also just so adorable and empowering at the same time, with so many interesting, complicated women who help each other in unexpected ways.

Full disclosure I read this book in nearly one sitting on an airplane, months ago, so the details are a little fuzzy. I do remember that it took me a while before I warmed up to this book. Tess is not a particularly likeable heroine at first - she's sharp-tongued, proud, and defies expectations of how a woman should act (which I loved) but she's also kind of selfish and stubborn in a less-than-endearing way. She's childish, petulant, and quite flawed, but she's also the most real main character I've read about in a while.

Tess lives in an almost Puritanical world, with strict rules about how women should act and what their role is. There's so much repression in this world, so it's only natural that Tess has to deal with some repressed traumatic memories. An interesting foil to how the human women are treated in this world are the dragon women, including Seraphina. The dragons don't have to follow human rules, and sometimes they find human customs completely ridiculous. There are also nuns and villagers and even a courtesan who show Tess that there are more ways to live as a woman in this world than the restricted existence her family expects her to lead.

This is one of those "journey" books, both literally and metaphorically. Tess pulls on some boots and walks, hoping to get somewhere far away from home where she can live freely. Her experiences along the way help her grow tremendously, and she eventually deals with the trauma of her painful past. The author wrote this excellent article about how this book was an emotional autobiography for her, focusing heavily on shame and healing. There are lots of metaphors for both ideas throughout this story, and it truly is an incredibly journey to share with the main characters.

I would definitely recommend giving this book a read, even if you haven't read Seraphina.

A free e-ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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