May 9, 2022

REVIEW Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1) by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1) by Rachel Hartman
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Format: Audiobook (library)
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers 

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman is a hard book to review. Not because I didn’t enjoy it (because I did), but more for the length and the content that it covers. Please check out the trigger warnings at the bottom of the review before starting this book - Tess of the Road does include some heavy topics and themes, so I wouldn’t want anyone to go in unprepared. I also want to note that this book doesn’t have that much to do with dragons (despite what the cover might lead you to believe). 

At its core, Tess of the Road has very strong themes of female empowerment. It's never shoved in the reader's faces; it's more of a subtle thread woven throughout the story. I enjoy fantasy books that tackle some of the issues our world faces  - Ms. Hartman did just that with this book. For example, one of the issues that are broached is the preoccupation with sexual “purity”. As a female, Tess was ostracized and shamed for a mistake and tragedy that happened in her past (check the trigger warnings if you want an idea of what happened). When she disguises herself as a male, her fellow workers put together a pool of money so “Tes’puco” can lose his virginity and they practically throw a party for the occasion. I also appreciated how Ms. Hartman touched on the fact that part of the issue stems from the lack of education on safe sex and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies (which Tess was affected by). 

The story does wander a bit (which could be off-putting for some in a book of 500 plus pages), and borders on rambling at times. However, I think that was more of a purposeful decision and less of a flaw in the writing. A majority of this book focuses on Tess’ journey to finding herself - as she does so, the narration becomes gradually less disjointed. Tess is such an endearing character, and you can’t help but feel for her. Fans of stories focused on broken characters and their journeys of healing will inevitably find themselves drawn to her. 

I’m excited to see what comes next in the sequel, In the Serpent’s Wake (the ending of this book makes it clear that Tess of the Road was not intended to be a standalone book).  I also plan to go back to read the prequel books Seraphina and Shadow Scale (as a note, it’s not necessary to read these books to be able to enjoy Tess of the Road). I would not recommend this book for the faint of heart. However, if you don’t feel that the content would be triggering and you want a story that’s educational, entertaining, and thought-provoking, then I would recommend you give Tess of the Road a chance.  

Trigger Warnings: Rape, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Underage Drinking, Sex Shaming, Drunkenness, Infant Loss

About the Author

Rachel Hartman is the author of three young adult fantasy novels: SERAPHINA, SHADOW SCALE, and TESS OF THE ROAD. Her fourth novel, IN THE SERPENT’S WAKE, will be published February 1st, 2022. Her novels have been on the New York Times bestseller list and have received many awards, including the Morris Award, the Sunburst Prize, and the Monica Hughes Award. Rachel lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and whippet.

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