Tess of the Road
by Rachel Hartman
Review by Gayle Surrette
Random House Books for Young Readers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781101931288
Date: 27 February 2018 List Price $18.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Tessie Dombegh, Tess to her friends, was not at all like her twin sister Jeanne. Jeanne was everything that Tess wasn't. She was gentle, followed all the rules, never questioned authority, and avoid anything that St. Vitt listed as unnecessary to the happiness of women. Jeanne was the perfect daughter.
Tess, on the other hand, was always asking questions. She wanted to know the Why and the How of things. She had a thirst for knowledge and adventure and was labeled as a trouble-maker, a wild-child, and a wicked, evil girl. She was often punished and beaten for her behavior and attitude.
Since women were not educated beyond what was necessary to be a wife and mother, it's no wonder that Tess was constantly in trouble. It was also almost a given that she'd at some point get in over her head, nearly destroy the family's reputation, and the chance that Jeanne could marry well to save the family from destitution.
So, Tess' job was to see to it that Jeanne had every opportunity to shine at court with Tess as her attendant. Tess managed to do all that was asked of her as she quietly drank to sleep at night and got a buzz on to make it through the days. On Jeanne's wedding day, Tess drinks way too much and nearly destroys all that she'd worked for. The family decides to send her to a nunnery because such evil cannot be tolerated any longer.
Tess plans to escape her fate and strike out on her own with a bit of a push from her part-dragon elder sister, Seraphina. Quickly, Tess learns that a woman traveling alone is a victim in search of a crime. So, disguised as a male, Tess learns a lot about the world and how it treats women, men, quigutl, and dragons. She passes through the countryside learning just what she's capable of as she finds the journey a chance to examine the world around her and come to grips with her past.
Tess of the Road is set in the world of Rachel Hartman's Seraphina. I haven't read Seraphina but had no trouble following this story--though I've now had to add another book to my TBR pile. Tess is a complicated character with a lot of potential and little focus. Her journey is one of self-discovery. She has no set direction until she meets up with a quigutl that she used to know and agrees to help him find one of the great world serpents.
Flashbacks to key incidents in her life fill in some of the questions readers may have on how her world works and the place of women in that world. As she travels, Tess learns that not all the world treats women as St. Vitt believes they should be treated. She learns that a lot of what she was told was not necessarily fact, but merely opinion. As she travels her world, she finds herself seeing the world and her place in it differently than she did when she began her journey.
Tess of the Road is basically a hero's quest journey but, in this case, the end of the quest is to recover the woman that Tess should have been all along. At the end, we get to watch her step out upon a new adventure which I hope will eventually be another story of Tess' life.