Audiobook Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Also by this author: Seraphina
Published by Penguin Random House Audio on February 27th 2018
Meet Tess, a brave new heroine from beloved epic fantasy author Rachel Hartman.
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.
Returning to the fascinating world she created in the award-winning and New York Times bestselling Seraphina, Rachel Hartman introduces readers to a new character and a new quest, pushing the boundaries of genre once again in this wholly original fantasy.
I have to confess, I’ve had a mixed experience with Rachel Hartman’s other books. I did enjoy Seraphina, but I actually wound up DNFing the sequel. Because of that, I was unsure if I would read another book by the author. However, the description of Tess of the Road convinced me I had to give the book a shot.
Luckily, Tess of the Road was an enjoyable read. I think I always will have a soft spot in my heart for female characters that want to break gender stereotypes and expectations and I especially like when they tend to break rules. There are flashback sections that show Tess being quite the troublemaker, or as her sister calls her a “spank-magnet”. But even though she would stir up trouble, she never did so with ill intent. Her breaking point with rules, family and expectations comes on full force and triggers her to forge her own way and take a path unexpected of her as she sets out on her own (using the girl dressed as a boy trope that I tend to be so fond of). Tess is not a perfect character, she does make mistakes and doesn’t always think about how what she does might impact the others around her. Her focus can be tightly focused on herself. But she is also young, and I think part of the story is how she can grow as a person. So traits like that are things you need to just bear with and wait and see how she grows as the book and series progress. If she’s still like that at the end of the series? That will be a disappointment, but I suspect that won’t be the case. In order to have good character growth, you have to give them some faults to overcome.
All that said, there were weaknesses in this book that did impact my enjoyment. I don’t feel like I engaged as fully as I could have, and the pace seemed to stall at points for me, making me disconnect at points during the story. Nothing is worse than suddenly feeling disengaged from a story you were enjoying, making it feel like you have to slog through some slower parts to get to the good parts. I also really think the structure of the flashbacks had a negative impact for me.
Sometimes I feel like issues with pacing and disconnect in a book that involves flashbacks can be exacerbated when you listen to it in audio just because it can be harder to pick up on cues for timeline jumps when listening (and harder to flip to double check). However, I don’t feel like that was this case with this book. It wasn’t too hard to place where it belonged based on the age of Tess since she goes from a child to a young woman, and yet the flashbacks still seemed to disrupt the flow of the story for me. Sometimes I can understand the use of flashbacks to tell two parallel stories that play and feed in to each other despite being years apart. I just don’t think that worked in this book, and it instead broke the flow of both timelines.
So overall, I would say if you were a fan of her first two books, you’ll likely really enjoy this one. If you were on the fence, I think it is still worth trying because there were many fun aspects to it as well.