Goodreads rating: 3.92
My rating: 4/5 stars
Tess Dombegh is far too big for the box the world has tried to squeeze her into. She is expected to be a proper lady and fit in at court and, at the very least, not embarrass her twin sister at her wedding. Unfortunately Tess is a young girl with a lot of hurt in her heart. She is weighed down by the decisions she has made and the consequences she’s been forced to face as a result. She’s rude, crass, angry, and selfish. At first, anyway.
Tess of the Road is a very grown-up young adult fantasy that is character driven more than anything else. Over the course of 500+ pages, we follow Tess as she unravels the events that led to her family all but disowning her and trying to send her off to a convent. Along the way she sorts out her personal responsibility and begins to heal by digging out a niche for herself in this life that she never really fit into before.
The medieval fantasy land of Goredd is filled to the brim with unique lore and world-building. Humans live alongside dragons who are a bit high and mighty at times. The World Serpents who created the earth might be sleeping below somewhere, just out of reach.
Yet as fantastical as this world is, Rachel Hartman gives Tess a voice that is so true to life and relatable that we can all find ourselves right at home on the road with her.
In particular, I loved the way this story illustrated the personal struggles Tess has with her family. Her mother can be cold and cruel and she makes no attempts to understand her unruly daughter. Tess’ twin sister Jeanne is sweet and kind, but also self serving in her own right. Tess’ half sister Seraphina is quite literally a Saint and so can do no wrong in the eyes of society. All of this serves to isolate and frustrate Tess (understandably, so). It makes it very hard for her to wrestle with her own shortcomings and move on to become a better person. All of these things help to humanize this character who might otherwise come across as overly bitter and catty (though I know this was exactly the reason why some readers didn’t click with Tess. For me, it worked.).
There are some interesting plot elements as well. Tess and her Quigutl friend Pathka experience no shortage of adventures over the course of this book, but Tess herself truly is under the spotlight the whole time.
Tess is a character I won’t soon forget and I really cherished my time with her. Tess of the Road is a spin-off of the bestselling books Seraphina and Shadow Scale. It’s recommended that you read Seraphina first to get a better understanding of the world of Goredd, however I didn’t read Seraphina prior to Tess and I didn’t have too much trouble with it. Just thought I’d mentioned that in case you would rather not jump in totally blind.