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Review: Tess of the Road

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Title:Tess of the Road

Author:Rachel Hartman

Series:Book 1

Rating★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Note:I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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.

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Tess was self-destructive and struggled to accept herself. She was still a genuinely good and caring person deep down but had a hard time seeing it.

Pathka was very protective of Tess and could be pretty hardheaded about things once he made up his mind.

Jeanne was supposed to be a perfect daughter. She was kind and helpful.

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“Wherever you are is my home, always. Us against the world.” 

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book!


Let me start by saying that I came into Tess of the Road not knowing very much about the world, its characters, or the backstory. One thing I liked right away was that we didn’t get any big info-dumps regarding the author’s other series. I didn’t feel like I needed to have read Seraphina before reading this book, which was good.

Unfortunately, because of the big time gap between the first chapter (when Tess is very young) and the next chapter (when Tess is practically an adult) I suddenly felt like I was missing a lot of information. Things had definitely happened between the two points. All the tension between Tess and her family and the mystery of what this sore spot created a bit of unnecessary confusion. At the same time, it had me glued to every page trying to get clues about what had happened to make Tess fall so far out of favor.

The beginning of the book was more centered around family tensions. Tess’s relationship with her mother was especially toxic. I felt for Tess when her mother was constantly criticizing her and making her feel like she was just in the way. I sympathized with her and hated how abusive her mother was. I was also frustrated with how her father seemed very passive and didn’t take on much of an active role. It seemed that despite the father’s mistakes it was really Tess who paid for his sins. She was the family punching bag, always being picked on and blamed.

And in the middle of all this chaos, Tess relied upon her twin, Jeanne. It was always them “against the world”.  Jeanne was the ideal child, doted upon, favored, and loved and Tess took it upon herself to shelter Jeanne from the worst the world had to offer. She focused her whole life on helping Jeanne navigate life, helping her avoid her own mistakes, ensuring her a good future. I felt like we didn’t really get to know Jeanne very well. She was always in control of her emotions, proper, and helpful.

It’s only after other events transpire that Tess finds herself at a crossroads. She can keep trying to earn her family’s acceptance or she can run away and try to carve her own future. One Tess decides to start over on the road her path leads her to an old childhood friend, Pathka, and soon they begin an adventure to finds the world’s serpents.

❝ “The world is surprisingly hard to destroy,” said Pathka gently. “Whereas saving it can be done a bit at a time […]” 

In general, I found Tess’s character to be interesting. She abused alcohol as a way to deal with her family and her past mistakes, she carried a lot of guilt and remorse, and she struggled to accept herself. I think her character was a mess emotionally and mentally, but she was trying. Tess seemed to be caught between wanting to be good daughter her family expected and the incorrigible troublemaker everyone told her she was.

At the same time, however, it wasn’t enough to really get me to fall in love with the book. Tess had some minor adventures while on the road. With this book having dragons I was expecting more action and adventure, but really Tess of the Road is more of Tess’s personal journey of self-acceptance. It dealt with some very adult topics like being a good mother, alcoholism, verbal abuse, losing a child, and rape. It didn’t read like a YA at times which was neither good nor bad, just something to be aware of.

The journey to find the world’s serpents really felt like an aside/background to the book. Tess’s issues always took precedence over everything else. I was expecting the fantasy elements to take more of an active role in the story besides just the characters’ races/species or the background but that wasn’t the case in this book. Really, the setting could have been anywhere else with all human characters and the story could go on just the same with Tess on the road. For it being in the fantasy genre I was kind of disappointed on that end.

Overall, I think this book had an interesting character and premise, but it just didn’t deliver on the fantasy end. 

Tess of the Road was released just last month on February 27th so if you’re interested go pick up a copy!





18 thoughts on “Review: Tess of the Road

    1. Yes! I’d heard such great things about her other series and I was craving that dragon/fantasy element but just didn’t get it from Tess of the Road. I think I’m still going to give Seraphina a try though!


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