Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Published 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers

554 pages, fantasy.

Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road, #1)

Check out Tess staring down the dragon of internalized misogyny in her fabulous boots! 

As is my wont, I went into this one blind. I didn't know it was part of a larger world, and I haven't read Seraphina. When the preface started with 6 year old Tess, I had no idea if it would continue with her story from there or jump ahead. I just knew I'd vaguely heard positive feelings about it, that I loved the cover, and that Tess of the D'urbervilles is one of my favorite tragic classics.

I imagine the world would have made more immediate sense if I'd read the earlier books first, and I'm pretty sure that if you were a stranger to fantasy, this book would be super confusing. But I love the sense of discovery that comes from being plunged into an unfamiliar world (well, as long as I'm READING I love it!). I jotted some notes for myself ('quigutl--lays eggs' and 'saints but no Jesus') and just kept going.

I've read some reviews praising or complaining about Tess being an unlikable main character. Well, I found her very likable. She is passionately loyal, kind, funny, self sacrificing, smart, and (eventually) willing to do hard self reflection and look at things from others' points of view. She starts the book angry, alcoholic, and full of self loathing, but she CHANGES and GROWS. Also, as her backstory is gradually revealed, all that angst and misery make sense.

I also read a review that said that kind of over the top, in your face misogyny is outdated and therefore irrelevant. To which I say HA HA HA HA HA oh honey, talk about lack of awareness of your own privilege. There are plenty of subcultures in which "purity" is still the be-all and end-all of a girl's worth, and plenty of teen girls who are sexually active without knowing a damn thing about female pleasure or birth control. And don't even get me started on abstinence only sex ed, which is BEST CASE SCENARIO for many public schools. Like, at least sex ed in a more liberal environment explains how babies are made. Actually, I was wondering about the prologue, what it meant for the book overall, and I decided that seriously, if Tess's questions about how babies are made and what marriage has to do with it had just been honestly answered, her life would have been SO MUCH BETTER.

I love how everyone, pretty much without exception, had good and bad qualities. Or at least sympathetic ones. Tess's mom is awful, but you know she's been through a lot. Will is an unmitigated dick though, and that's fair. She was thirteen, asshole.

I tweeted at the author to ask about the Tess/Tess parallels and the next day realized she'd already answered that question on Goodreads, oops. Both to me and on GR she said that she'd read Tess of the D'urbervilles decades ago and didn't intend any kind of parallels, but anticipating this question, she read a summary and realized that she must have subconsciously made more connections than she'd realized. I definitely think there are connections. There's Tess's innocence (sexual and emotional) being ravished by a handsome jerk, and society judging HER for that, to the extent that she actually BELIEVES it says something bad about her. Then Tess falls in love with someone who has his own sexual past, but she's still afraid to tell him about hers. Growing confident in his feelings for her, she finally shares what happened. Here the books part ways, THANK GOODNESS. Also--130 year old spoiler-- no dragons in the earlier Tess book.

I'm not sharing much about the actual plot, but suffice it to say that it's very much a road book, with Tess meeting and then leaving various people and places along the way. If that bugs you, maybe don't pick up a book called ___ of the Road. It's also a book that doesn't shy away from metaphysics, philosophy, etc. In general, it seemed like an adult fantasy novel with a late teen protagonist more than a YA fantasy novel, but I'm not in marketing, so what do I know? I can see it not being everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it. 

5/5 stars


  1. I picked this up a few months ago - intrigued me - but still haven't read it. You've made me want to start it now. Thanks for that.
    (Especially as i LOVED Tess of the D"ubervilles)

  2. I haven't read Tess of the D'ubervilles so I didn't know that there was a possible connection, but I think that's a pretty cool one! Fantastic review! I'm so happy to hear that you absolutely loved it! It was one of my favorites in 2018!

  3. I have seen mostly good reviews, but it makes me nuts, when people write a character off, even though their behavior is justified. I also had not idea this was a retelling. Hmmmm. Glad you liked it!

  4. This is a great review for a book I was interested to read, but had heard some negatives so put it off a little. but your review? It's totally making me change my mind, it sounds like an interesting read which is not always happy... but it certainly sounds like one I will enjoy.


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!