Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

In previous reviews, I compared Rachel Hartman’s first duology - Seraphina and Shadow Scale – to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Like Cashore’s Katsa, in Bitterblue, Seraphina is present and integral to plot points and character development in Tess on the Road, but the focus shifts to a younger character, Seraphina’s half-sister. And again, similar to Bitterblue, the book ends as a major sea expedition is setting out, promising wonderful adventure. Like Cashore, Hartman’s writing, world building and narrative are excellent, but there, the similarities end...

We meet Tess as a bossy, scrappy, lippy and generally naughty little girl, evading restrictions enforced against girls and young women. She’s a bad influence on her angelic twin and friends with Pathka - a Quigutl – a small dragon-like creature whose race is tolerated but oppressed in Tess’s regimented society. In adolescence, Tess sneaks to lectures at the university, which leads to a secret romance that destroys her reputation and prospects. Faced with becoming a governess in her sister’s new home or beginning a new life in a nunnery, Tess runs away. On the road, away from other people’s negative expectations, Tess becomes a better self, has fantastic adventures, and together with Pathka tracks down and communes with a mythic creature. The book closes as Tess joins an expedition to track down a second such creature, as governments and dragons begin to compete for control and hegemony of World Serpents.

This book explores, with nuance and clarity, the difference between self-interest and selfishness and what can be the folly of misguided sacrifice for family. I recommend this book to fantasy and science enthusiasts – adults and young adults – to fans of historical and science fiction. I can’t wait for the rest of Tess’s singular adventure.

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr1304787

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