“Dying took commitment. It was easier to go on living incompetently.” ― Rachel Hartman,
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.
Returning to the spellbinding world of the Southlands she created in the award-winning, New York Times bestselling novel Seraphina, Rachel Hartman explores self-reliance and redemption in this wholly original fantasy.
I started reading Tess of the Road for two reasons.
- The cover is gorgeous.
- It’s over 500 pages long and worked well for the Tome Topple Readathon.
After completing it, I can say that there are definitely more than two reasons to read Tess of the Road and none of them have to do with the above reasons.
I should first start by admitting that I’ve never read any of Rachel Hartman’s novels. I was not aware of the former characters and the expansiveness of the world that she had created in prior books.
Even with that said, I fell in love with Tess of the Road. I didn’t love it because it’s a fantasy, but because it’s entirely different from every YA Fantasy I’ve read in the last few years.
Before I get into the meat of this review I need to applaud Rachel Hartman for several things.
First, she calls into question what it means to be a “good” woman and how religion plays a role in this ideal. She lets her characters face this reality as well as the reader.
Second, and this follows significantly with the first, Hartman creates a discourse on what it means to give consent and does a magnificent job in clearly defining what is and is not consensual sex.
Characters: Every character in Tess of the Road was relevant and full of life. Hartman did an outstanding job in creating a cast of characters that had purpose. Every minor character had a role to play. Not a single character was there just to be there.
Even more, each character followed a set of moral values. Characters that would have otherwise been uninteresting and simple, showed complexity because they had values and opinions. Even if they were inherently flawed.
The most important piece to Hartman’s character was that each of them questioned some aspect of society. Every woman in Tess of the Road struggles to come to grips with societies ideals of what makes a pious and good woman. Some learn to go against the grain and choose to create their own ideals while others find themselves trapped and holding out hope that society will find them good enough.
Plot: Tess of the Road is a very character driven novel, meaning that Hartman uses the characters to determine what comes next. There isn’t a world ending prophecy that Tess has to follow or anything so dire that she becomes this saint-like heroine.
Instead, Hartman follows the path of her characters, allowing them to develop as they face each obstacle. Our main character Tess uses her journey to grown and heal and become a character that is worth following.
Because it’s so focused on the growth of characters rather than a specific plot point, the pacing can feel quite slow. While in this instance I felt the pacing worked for the story itself, I can understand for other readers why it might feel lengthy or tedious to read.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise, but I gave Tess of the Road 5/5 stars.