Friday, September 09, 2022

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road is a spin-off of Hartman’s wonderful Seraphina duology. They’re set in a world of shapeshifting dragons, lizard-like quigutl, and humans. It’s a pre-technology world, but with clever gadgets the quigutl invent, like long-distance communication devices.

Tess is Seraphina’s human half-sister. She’s seventeen, deeply unhappy, and suffering from a trauma that is only alluded to at first. Her sole focus is to get her twin sister Jeanne into a good marriage, hoping it’ll absolve her past and set her free. But when the marriage is accomplished and she’s still being punished, she walks awayand keeps walking.

A chance encounter with a childhood friend, a quigutl Pathka, gives her a destination and purpose. He wants to find a world serpent, a creature from quigutl mythology that no one else believes even exists. Together he and Tess, disguised as a young man, set out to find a creature that calls Pathka in his dreams.

The journey to the snake is long and eventful. But the events themselves aren’t as important to Tess as what she learns on the journey about herself. Little by little, the tangles of her past open, and the reader learns about the trauma that haunts her. She has imagined herself in love with a young man who promised to marry her, only to get her pregnant, and then leave. But even that story has deeper layers, and the trauma they have caused rushes to the surface in bursts of violence when events trigger her.

It's not an easy road to recovery for her, and in her eagerness, she often causes more harmeven irreparablethan good. But by the time of the final call to come home, she’s grown and healed enough to know, that it isn’t her home anymore.

This was a wonderful book about healing and forgiving oneself. Tess started as a troubled girl and grew into a self-confident, determined woman. Pathka, as her companion, was an excellent character too, suitably alien and with his own family trouble that mirrored Tess’s relationship with her mother. Seraphina seemed like a different person when seen through the eyes of an outsider but remained unique. Other characters were more fleeting, existing to help Tess on her journey and then left behind. Some will perhaps resurface in the latter book, but if Seraphina duology is anything to go by, permanent, romantic relationships won’t be the goal.

This is marketed as young adult fantasy, and as a growth-story, it is that. But the trauma of Tess’s past and her journey to forgiveness are both triggering and profound in a way that adults will appreciate the book as well. I will definitely read the next book too.

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