Tess of the Road
Rachel Hartman, 2018
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.
Disclaimer 1: This book is a spin-off of Hartman's Seraphina series... which I have not read. I think that reading Seraphina and Shadow Scale would probably be beneficial to do before reading this book, but mostly for world-building purposes. It is, however, not completely necessary - there is nothing in this book that failed to make sense and the world was easy enough to pick up after a few chapters.
Disclaimer 2: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to read this book. The expected publication date for Tess of the Road is February 27, 2018.
Disclaimer 3: I have seen some reviewers who were disappointed because they went into this book expecting to read about dragons. If you are looking for a book about dragons, this is not that book. Dragons are peripheral to the plot, but feature very little. I understand that the Seraphina books involve dragons much more heavily, however.
Okay, with those disclaimers out of the way, on to my review.
I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book. It sounded interesting to me, so I requested a copy and started to read. Once I was a few pages in, however, I realized that I had missed the fact that this was a spin-off book. Oops. But I kept reading, and I'm glad I did. While there were details glossed over in the first few chapters that I wish I knew more about - Why was Tess seen as such a screw-up? There are half-dragons? And are all half-dragons Saints? What the heck is a quigutl? - I found that as I read most of those details didn't matter to the story (and the ones that did were explained as it went on).
This is a hard book to qualify for me. It's a fantasy, but aside from the quigutl (which, by the way, is a sort of large chameleon-looking sentient animal with its own language that is really good at working with tools), we didn't encounter a whole lot of fantastical elements. (Well, there was one other, but it's a spoiler). It's honestly much more of a coming-of-age novel, where the main character starts out on a journey and encounters different people along the way and finds herself. Which is not a bad thing. But if you're expecting a high-action fantasy novel, you'll probably be disappointed.
Really, I hope that this book is marketed well, but I fear that it won't be. My fear is that it will be marketed as an epic fantasy instead of a coming-of-age novel, and that does this novel a disservice. Because it's a really good young adult novel, and I think that a lot of different readers - not just fantasy readers - will like it. It had a great female protagonist with a lot of flaws who I think teenage girls could really like. I love that the author decided, after writing the Seraphina books, that she wanted to explore Tess a little more. I think she did a great job of fleshing out a character that you don't see a lot in this type of story.
Overall, I thought this was a well-written, interesting story. There's not a lot of action and a surprisingly little amount of fantasy elements for a fantasy novel, but it's a well-told story and I found Tess to be likable despite her flaws (and sometimes because of them). There is a little adult content in this book, so I can't recommend it to the younger crowd, but I definitely recommend it to young women who like a good story and who won't be put off by a slower pace and a slightly confusing fantasy world.
[I also plan to read the Seraphina books at some point, so I'll be curious to see how this world is first introduced there.]