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Book review: Rachel Hartman's 'Tess of the Road' doesn't live up to its sister novel but still provi

POSTED: March 4, 2018 4:19 a.m.
Michelle Garrett Bulsiewicz/

"Tess of the Road" by Rachel Hartman.

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"TESS OF THE ROAD," by Rachel Hartman, Random House, 544 pages (f) (ages 14 and up)

A companion novel to the New York Times best-seller "Seraphina," Rachel Hartman's newest young adult fantasy, "Tess of the Road," tells the story of Seraphina's younger half-sister, Tess.

Since she was small, Tess has been the troublemaking half of her twinship with her sweet, obedient sister Jeanne, and her mother's strict religious upbringing made it certain that Tess always knew it. As a young teen, Tess gets into the kind of tragic scandal that could ruin her family, so she throws herself into helping her sister marry well in order to save them. She knows she's condemned to a future of caring for her sister's children or a convent, unsuitable for anything else.

Then, Tess decides she can't take it anymore and runs away to create a future all her own. She travels with her quigutl friend (a lesser form of dragon) to find the ancient, grand dragons of myth and legend and, along the way, runs into all sorts of adventures.

A Tolkienesque quest novel, "Tess of the Road" plods along at a slow pace for much of its length. "Seraphina" and its sequel "Shadow Scale" tell the unique tale of a half-dragon who hid in plain sight as a musician at the royal palace and fell in love with a prince, and its story has a typical, linear plot with a lot more tension because of it. "Tess of the Road" takes place in the same world, but Tess is an ordinary human teenager with some ordinary, if horrible, problems, and she wanders around the countryside for a long time trying to run away from them.

Tess has gone through a lot of trauma and abuse — more than anyone's fair share — and the highlight of the novel is how she overcomes her past. She discovers that she's not so alone and strange as she always thought and instead is worthy of love and happiness. A lot of the heavy topics in the story feel a little beyond young adult, but they're dealt with in an empathetic and poignant way.

Overall, if you can get through the dragging middle section, readers will be rewarded with a beautiful message of resilience and healing. They will also get to know a character whose growth is believable and remarkable, and maybe even familiar to us humans.

Content advisory: "Tess of the Road" contains some profanity, violence, sexual content and thematic material.
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