Title: Tess of the Road
Author: Rachel Hartman
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: February 27th 2018 from Random House
Narrator: Katherine McEwan
Listening Time: 16 hours, 15 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Note: This is set in the world of Hartman’s Seraphina duology. People have said that reading at least Seraphina helps and I kind of agree. But you can read this on its own if you want to try this author. This story is separate from the other books since it focuses on Tess solely.
I had seen some great reviews of this book on Goodreads when this came out back in February and when I saw that Katherine McEwan was the narrator, I had to get it! I ended up being surprised by this book as well and I do want to read the other two books now. Here’s the breakdown:
- Tess as a character: Oh man I love Tess! She’s the half sister to Seraphina and she’s what you call the “black sheep” in her family, with not caring for court and marriage. But with all that’s happened to her, she is rude sometimes and doesn’t make the best decisions. But her character arc is emotional, funny at times and completely worth it. She also loves her sister Jeanne as well, which was really sweet in the beginning. She’s one of my new favorite characters so far!
- Pathka: This quigutl is the most interesting creature companion ever and I love him/her! This creature comes into the story as Tess goes on her journey and the creature is fascinating. They can change their genders which was interesting, but all the same, the bond Pathka and Tess share is so emotional and beautiful. Pathka’s personality made so much of this book for me.
- World Building: This medieval fantasy world is truly fascinating! While the politics, religion and court culture reflect our own ancient history, the world is still really cool with its mythology of saints, world serpents and different types of dragons and magical items. Hartman adds subtle details to this world to make it rich and pretty cool 🙂 There is also some diversity in this book: one side character is gay, the quigutl can change their genders and and I believe some people are people of color as well.
- Writing Style: Rachel Hartman has a very mature and polished writing style that I really appreciate. I had no idea what to expect but she’s so good. She’s a master of building a world without making it feel like info dumps, emotional pain and showing us a girl finding herself in her own way. For me, some YA tends to tell too much and have some things heavy handed to you, but this author doesn’t do that! Her writing made me want to pick up the Seraphina duology.
- Narrator: Katherine McEwan can do no wrong! This lady also does the voice of Helene for the Ember in the Ashes audio books. She balances loss, anger, injustice, the medieval humor and wonder all perfectly. Her voice even offers quiet strength in the moments that tug at your emotions. She needs to do more YA audio books 🙂
- Messages: This book really hit home with messages of: forgiving yourself, finding your own way, showing mercy to others, family love, complicated relationships and coming to terms with grief in more ways than one. Note: This book does deal with rape and loss so be prepared going into it.
- Too long: This book is over 500 pages and it does feel like that at times. Personally, this book is about 100 pages too long. I think some cutting would’ve tightened the plot.
- Pacing/Focus: One thing that made it hard to finish the last few hours of the book is that things were meandering around at a slow pace. The focus of the world serpent journey wasn’t as focused on as I thought which was really sad. You see how it unfolds but I thought it would be more of a focus to the plot. Maybe the sequel will include more?
- Too Side Characters: One reason why I kept losing track of the audio book was the fact of too many side characters. I had to keep back tracking when she was interacting with some side characters, but I still felt confused at times. Some of these characters felt to important from how the author wrote them, but it was still too many.
Overall: Even though it took me a long time to listen to this, I did really enjoy it. Rachel Hartman gives a very emotional and mature story about a young girl finding her destiny despite wanting to give up. Again, I do recommend for mature readers due to the adult conversations in here but it’s a fantastic story and audio book. I’m interested to see where the sequel goes!
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Did you read Seraphina and if so, did you like that one as well? What other books with dragons do you recommend?