Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Tess Of The Road by Rachel Hartman

Author: Rachel Hartman
Series: Tess of the Road #1
Audience: 16
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 27th 2018
My Rating: 5 Cups
Source: Publisher
Blurb (from Goodreads):
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.
*Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my rating or the content of my review in any way.

Have you ever felt truly speechless after reading a book? Not quite on the verge of a book hangover, but just... speechless. That's what I'm feeling right now, and it's a great feeling.

This book tells the story of Tess, an unlikely heroine, in a medieval kingdom called Goredd. Tess is one of those hard to like characters, and it took me a while to figure out why. I'm used to reading about characters I can connect with in some way, but then I realized why I found it hard to connect with her immediately. It wasn't because of her, but of the context in which her story unfolded. It's rare that I get to read about the young women who defy the standards of an era in which women are expected to be respectable, innocent maidens one moment, perfect mothers the next, silent shadows that serve only to bear children and raise them. I was entering this story with preconceived ideas, and once I was aware of them I was able to see Tess for who she was: just a girl wanting more out of life than simply being a ghost, a girl who wanted to be as daring as a man, one who just wanted to know about life.

The book deals with a lot of difficult subjects, such as alcoholism, mental health, rape, and even the death of a newborn child. These are sensitive, hard subjects, but I felt they were dealt with very well. Although only one received its true name, I didn't feel it took something away from the others, but it somehow made me more aware that they were a part of the story.

Tess of the Road was a surprising book for me. Not only was it my first book by this author, but it also was one of the first YA books I took my time reading. And while at first I wasn't exactly sure why I felt the need to pace myself, I realized quickly that this wasn't a book I was supposed to read fast. More than a few times I felt the need to stop and think about it, because this book was not just about the destination, but about the journey itself. While we see Tess go through seemingly easy and sometimes absurd adventures, they also reflect Tess's road to healing. Her mother was abusive, she was constantly shamed for things that her cousin, a male, was merely mocked for in a loving, "he's just eccentric" manner, and after her "relationship" with a guy who I slowly, but surely, grew to hate, she was isolated and shamed. And while she was going through the most tragic thing of all, her family called this tragedy a blessing, a fitting end to what could have resulted in the complete shaming of the entire family. When we meet Tess she's a wreck, although as readers, we don't know why. It's strange to not know the why of a character, but as the title hints, this is "the Road". The road towards finding strength while exploring and admitting weakness. The journey towards accepting that the blame isn't on the woman's shoulders, on a victim's shoulders, no matter what you might be told to believe. Knowing that a disability doesn't mean the end one's journey, and not only accepting it, but living in spite of it. I could probably go on and on and on, but I'll let you discover the magic of this book.

All in all, I absolutely adored this book, and I will definitely read not only the next book, but Seraphina as well.
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