Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (DRC): Coming of Age, not Adventure


4 stars

Tess has been a troublemaker at birth, ever since she shoved her way out of her mother’s womb before her twin sister. She’s now suffering consequences for some of her trouble-making ways, and instead of heading towards the nunnery her parents are looking into, Tess puts on her boots and journeys across the Southlands, pretending to be a boy.

Tess doesn’t know where she’s going, but with the help of an old quigutl (a dragon subspecies) friend, she now has purpose and protection on the road. Yet her tumultuous past is a heavy burden and she’s threatened with the idea of being exposed to the world.

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After reading a few of the reviews, I ended up being unsure of if I was going to enjoy this or not, but I jumped in anyways.

And I’m so glad I did.

Although this is the spinoff to Seraphina, you don’t have to read Seraphina to read it. I haven’t (but now I want to). The books are very different and if you’re expecting something similar to Seraphina, throw that notion out the window and off the penthouse floor now.

Because this is Tess, not Seraphina, and she’s going through vastly different struggles. (Vastly different struggles which I loved, that is.)

If you’re looking for political intrigue and action and fantasy adventure, you won’t really be getting that. But if you’re looking for a character who’s growing up, a journey to find oneself, an adventure where you don’t know where you might end up, then Tess of the Road should be right up your ally.

And even if you’re not looking for those things, I think you should still check this out.

Because it’s a coming-of-age story wrapped in a fantasy world, and what’s better than a coming-of-age? It’s relatable on all levels to people of all ages.

And Tess is our troubled little main character who’s taken to the Road to find herself–because where she was before definitely wasn’t the right place for her.

I do think, before we go to all the gushing (which will definitely be coming), I should address the one thing that dropped this book down a notch:

The length.

It was much longer than I think was necessary. The beginning especially was much longer than it could have been and I feel like it would help if it was condensed.

The first paragraph of the summary? Well, that’s basically the first 100-something pages of the 500-something pages of the book.

I can’t really pinpoint where it could be condensed except for the beginning. Dropping us off in some action or shortening the exposition would have been very helpful in just making this easily digestible and preventing DNFs.

But, I do appreciate how Hartman set up the world and introduced it to new readers like me who are unfamiliar with anything in this world.

So although it was helpful to me and I didn’t mind the length too much, I know some people will think it’s redundant and dragging.

But the book slowly got better and it worked with so many important and interesting themes. It’s very much a book of buildup, adding layers and layers of history and different themes and feelings on top of each other and then peeling them away and spurring on change.

Tess deals with everything from body positivity/sex/romance to something I’m not going to spoil to figuring out her purpose to dealing with her family. There are so many different layers to this book and it’s hard to explain how they build up.

But I found it all to be very cohesive, each piece intersecting with the next and working together like gears in a clock. The whole novel just worked and that’s really what I liked about it.

It’s all very character based and although things happen, it wasn’t like there was this one-track plot to “win the competition” or “stop the war” or some other common fantasy trope. It’s just not very fantastical–there are different species (dragons, quigutl, World Serpents, etc.) but it’s mostly about a girl on a journey, discovering who she is.

I ended up really enjoying this and hope that there’s a second book in store for us all because Tess isn’t done growing and I have high hopes for what else she’ll discover. I would definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporaries, not fantasies (although if you like fantasies, still check this out) and I think anyone will fall in love with Tess and her journey if you give her the chance.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!

much love, vicky

Have you read Seraphina before? What did you think of it?

10 thoughts on “Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (DRC): Coming of Age, not Adventure

  1. great review Vicky!
    it’s nice to read a good one as I’ve seen a lot of bad reviews floating around goodreads and the like so was unsure as to if I wanted to add it to my tbr or not 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! it’s definitely not for everyone I think because of how slow it is, but I really liked seeing everything connect and the layers intersect throughout the novel!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It was! It’s very much a slow read and so I know it doesn’t really appeal to a lot of readers in this aspect, but I’m glad I ended up enjoying it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your review made me very curious about this book, I’ll have to check it out and also her other book! ❤ I just adore the concept of having a coming of age story in a fantasy, I don't think I've seen many of these, usually fantasy characters have to deal with other stuff.
    Lovely review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And yes, Hartman is pretty famous for Seraphina, but Tess is also such a great character & makes this feel more like a contemporary than a fantasy, honestly!


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