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Tess of the Road Hardcover – February 27, 2018
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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"In her triumphant return to the world of Seraphina (2012), Hartman introduces Tess Dombegh, one of Seraphina’s stepsiblings. After a shattering fall from grace, Tess has tried to be the dutiful daughter to her critical mother. She may never be good, but maybe she can be good enough to be forgiven. When Tess drunkenly ruins her sister’s wedding night, she’s almost relieved to run away. Disguised as a boy, she seeks oblivion on the road; instead, she’s invited to help find a legendary serpent by her childhood friend, a quigutl (dragon subspecies). Along the way, Tess runs afoul of robbers, works as a manual laborer, poses as a priest, and struggles to make peace with past trauma. First in a duology, this is a perfect example of a familiar fantasy trope being given new dimension through empathetic characters and exquisite storytelling. At first appearing bitter and self-pitying, Tess reveals compassion, courage, and resilience on her journey, which is as emotional and spiritual as it is physical. This achingly real portrayal of a young woman whose self-loathing takes help to heal is a perceptive examination of rape culture rare in high fantasy. Not to be ignored, this is also a fascinating road trip adventure. Absolutely essential."—Booklist, starred review
"Hartman returns to Goredd with the tale of another young woman who breaks the rules in search of herself. There are three Dombegh sisters: naughty Tess, perfect twin Jeanne, and famous, talented older sister Seraphina (of Seraphina, 2012, and Shadow Scale, 2015). Now 17, haunted by past mistakes, immersed in self-denial and the need to follow "proper" behavior, white Tess—who once befriended lizardlike Quigutl and secretly attended lectures—is miserable. After drunkenly punching her new brother-in-law at Jeanne's wedding, Tess dresses as a boy and takes off. She travels across Goredd and Ninys in search of a Quigutl prophecy and her own purpose, in a sometimes-episodic tale narrated in descriptive, sharply observant third-person prose. Angry, bitter Tess has reason for her feelings but is not always easy to walk with, and the slow reveal of her past makes for a compelling read on the ways in which girls—in the quasi-Renaissance Goredd and also in the real world—are taught to take blame on themselves even when others are culpable. Fortunately, the Road has answers ("walk on"), and by the end Tess has faced her past and can look forward to another volume of adventure, discovery, and changing her world. Like Tess' journey, surprising, rewarding, and enlightening, both a fantasy adventure and a meta discourse on consent, shame, and female empowerment. (dramatis personae, glossary; not seen) (Fantasy. 13-adult) "—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
About the Author
As a child, RACHEL HARTMAN played cello, lip-synched Mozart operas with her sisters, and fostered the deep love of music that inspired much of Seraphina. Rachel earned a degree in comparative literature but eschewed graduate school in favor of bookselling and drawing comics. Born in Kentucky, she has lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She now lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada. To learn more, please visit SeraphinaBooks.com or RachelHartmanBooks.com.
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Like Mercedes Lackey's Queen's Own books, Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, or Tamora Pierce's Alanna books, Tess of the Road features a protagonist who fails to fit the mold society has set for her and sets out on her own adventures. Like Talia or Alanna, Tess learns to navigate the roles of gender and sex through experience; like Cimorene, she encounters impressive dragons; like many real humans, she starts to realize as time goes on that the heroes of her youth may not stand up to adult scrutiny.
Most of the references to sex in the book are not particularly explicit, but there certainly are references to sex--a lot of them. I feel that the morals promoted by the story are pretty sound ones, but I'm sure there are people who disagree. In particular, I'm pleased to see a character who has found herself subjected to an unfortunate sexual situation healing and moving on, not being uniformly treated as undesirable damaged goods. I feel like the treatment of this subject matter may be a ray of hope for some readers.
Things that bothered me about the book as an adult--for example, the idea that Tess's society in an alternate universe would have many of the exact same sexual hangups as are found in many societies in our own universe--wouldn't have bothered me as an adolescent, I don't think. I would've been delighted to find a strong new heroine--and in a deliciously lengthy book ending with the strong probability of more books to follow. If, as a teenager, I'd discovered Tess before discovering Seraphina, I would've looked for the Seraphina books immediately after finishing Tess of the Road.
As an adult, I might read the Seraphina books eventually, or I might not. I would've liked to see more transcendental dragon moments and fewer struggling-with-sexual-mores moments in Tess of the Road. I also spent a lot of the book feeling like I was supposed to know about topics that had been covered in the Seraphina books, which made me feel left out, but over time I realized that information about those topics was just being released to the reader in a slow, measured, suspenseful manner. I think I would've been fine with knowing the backstory up front, but I admit that it did pique my interest.
For adults, I'd give the book four stars, but for adolescents, I think it's a solid five. I'm really glad that books like this are out there. Only when I reread Queen's Own as an adult did I realize what a profound effect this type of book had on my strength of character growing up. Even when I felt alone and isolated, strong characters similar to Tess were feeling the same way, and that helped, because even fictional characters come from real experiences. Reading about characters who were true to themselves set a good example for me and helped me to do the same. I hope Hartman and her peers continue to produce work of this nature.
Tess, whose life has been colored by an indifferent father, a fearful, fantatical mother, and her own rebellious nature manages to ruin her sister's wedding by getting drunk, letting a secret slip, and punching a priest-in-training. For this, and a raft of other missteps, she's about to be forced into a religious life. But Tess has just enough rebellion left in her to slip that noose and set out on her own.
Over the course of the book we discover that she's fleeing a past which makes her unmarriageable in the eyes of her social class. And she's pursuing a dream of the World Serpent, along with Pathka, a dragonlike creature called a Quigutl. Along the way she meets a whole cast of fascinating characters, and she works through all the noise inside her head to discover who she really is as opposed to who she's been told she is.
I liked Tess immediately, and came to care about what might happen to her. I was thrilled to see her shaking off all the guilt that had been laid on her, guilt that she had accepted as her due. I enjoyed seeing her relationship with her sisters change and grow. And when the truth of the defining event of her past comes out, I felt both grief and anger, not just for Tess, but because her story is very like that of a friend. Seeing it laid out on the page drove home how insane it is that a girl could feel forced to take responsibility for what other people, people with power, choose to do to her.
Yes, it's difficult to assimilate the truth of Tess' life, but I found it worth the journey just to see her rise above it, and become Tess of the Road. She has a long way to go still, but I'll be with her when Hartman produces a sequel.
I really enjoyed the narrative from a purely technical point of view. I love Hartman's use of language. She has a clever and often sly way with words that adds layers of meaning to her story. Her characters are complex, and adult, and she doesn't deal in easy answers. You have to work a bit to get the full effect of this book, and I consider that a good thing.
Before I'd read very far in Tess of the Road, I bought Serafina and Shadow Scale, and began reading the former as soon as I finished with Tess. As always, that's the highest praise I can give.
Tess is not a perfect character. Some of the things that happened to her were the result of really bad choices she made. Early on in the book, Tess has the chance for an adventure that would have made this a completely different book -- and likely would have made it into the kind of fantasy adventure I was expecting, but she turns it down out of anger and wounded pride.
Tess sets off on the road with little preparation and luckily meets up with her childhood friend, a quigutl (a type of dragon). Pathka has some issues very similar to those Tess is working through, which makes for a number of thought-provoking passages in the book. On the road, Tess finds new strengths and shows kindnesses the reader might not have expected given the earlier part of the book. Some could see this as a feminist or female empowerment fantasy.
The longer Tess was on the road, the more I liked the book. Tess continues to make what I think were bad choices, but she does so more thoughtfully than her earlier choices. By the end of the book, I wanted more -- I wanted to see what Tess would do now that she had done a lot of growing up.
I didn't love this book but by the end I had come to like it. I would read other books by the author for sure.