Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman was shortlisted for the inaugural YA Hugo award, to be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention this weekend. That was the main reason I read it. Tess of the Road is a spin-off of a YA series that I was aware of, but which didn’t grab my attention (I think, based on what I now know, this was because the marketing and cover gave the wrong impression of the book). I started all the Hugo-nominated YA books but one, and Tess of the Road was the only one that interested me enough to keep reading (though I might come back to one or two of the others later).

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.

Tess is a teen in a world that expects people like her to be getting married and thinking of having babies. Because her family has fallen on hard times, she has spent the past couple of years working towards getting her twin sister a wealthy husband. Even though Tess is technically the older twin, scandalous events from her past have lead her family to pretend that honour falls on the other twin. This past and the way in which it was slowly explained throughout the book is what first grabbed my attention. What kept my attention was the world building and the interesting non-human races that feature.

As can be guessed from the title, Tess breaks free from the expectations of society and sets out on the road. She has a series of adventures, which make up the story and are tied together by a quest her (non-human) companion/childhood friend is undertaking. Throughout the book, we see Tess grow. She starts off as an alcoholic, but through walking and manual labour and a few other key events comes to confront and come to terms with her past.

As I said, I enjoyed this book, particularly the world building. It was on the long side and I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, exacerbating it’s length, however, it overall held my attention well, especially the opening chunk and the ending. The end made me think there might be a sequel, though I wasn’t sure if that would be the case until the very end. I would be interested in reading it. Also, having read this spin off, I am certainly considering going back to the original series about Seraphina, Tess’s sister, at some point. I recommend this book to fans of YA, coming of age stories and particularly the kind of YA which does not involve saving the world.

4 / 5 stars

First published: Random House, 2018
Series: Same world as the Seraphina series and the first book of a new series
Format read: eARC
Source: Hugo voter packet

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