Tess of the Road. Rachel Hartman. Young adult/Fantasy. 2018. 544 pages. 2 stars.
As soon as anyone brings up the past, you get defensive and shut them out.
I received an Advanced Readers’ Copy 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.
“Would you believe I wasn’t thinking of you? It is possible, perhaps, that you are not the center of the universe.”
Tess of the Road was hyped up by so many because a lot of YA readers love a fantasy with dragons. Jumping on the bandwagon, I got excited and had high expectations of it given the positive comments it received both from those who have and haven’t read it.
The first 20% of the story were interesting, mainly focusing on court intrigue between the fraternal twins, Tess and Jeanne. As a lover of such tropes, I had no trouble delving into the story and actually found myself enjoying it a lot from the tea parties to the details of what dresses they were going to wear to such occasions. The family dynamics were also something to be intrigued by because readers are not fully privy to the backstory of Tess. There are inklings of resentment towards her, which are not outright explained. We’re given bits and pieces to figure out exactly where Tess stands in the family.
Tess is very real and relatable, written with realistic flaws like each of us and it made loving her as a character because we experience her emotions better with the way sh was written. While her twin sister is virtually blameless to having the favor of the family, we feel a similar kind of underlying resentment that Tess has for her, despite loving her deeply.
As the story goes on, we get into a very complicated setting—dragons and quigotls (I’m not sure I spelled it right, let alone be able to pronounce it) and Serpent Worlds and saints. It did have an overwhelming effect because it assumes that the reader knows what these things are. As a downside to the incredible world building, it turned me off because the narrative didn’t take into the account how lost I might feel in the midst of all this information.
The adventure in the story goes under-appreciated partially because we have no idea what their end goal is and mainly because not much ever happens. There’s a lot of movement from the characters going from one place to the next and placeholders of myths and stories in between but as for action there’s little to nothing to hold on to. All we have are possible stories that may or may not be true that may or may not be their end goal that may or may not kill them in the process. There are too many “maybe’s” in this story to be interesting.
These possibilities became too much for me to hope for that I decided it wasn’t worth all the confusion between the setting, the characters, and the plot. I figured that while I love high fantasy stories, there is such a thing as a too-high of a fantasy story that’s beyond my interest.
Tess of the Road is set to be released on 27 February 2018.