Monday, 21 January 2019

Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the two Seraphina books tremendously, so when I saw this, set in the same world and starring Seraphina's younger half-sister, I eagerly picked it up.

It's very much a road-trip story, almost a picaresque (the episodic adventures of a rogue), though Tess isn't really as much of a rogue as she thinks she is. The drawback of this is that, because the journey is explicitly more important than the destination, the plot can seem a bit meandering and unanchored. And it's not a short book.

That's largely made up for by the strong interiority of the main character. Tess is initially unappealing; she'll cut off her nose to spite her face, she's irresponsible, resentful, and rebellious seemingly for rebellion's sake. However, she's also living with the consequences of some bad decisions, and making just enough effort to do better that I was prepared to give her a chance.

I'm glad I did. Her inner journey is mostly more interesting than her outer journey, and much more the point of the story, and the author handles it expertly. The slow unrolling of her tragic backstory serves to keep up the suspense, and culminates in a shocking moment of revelation.

Tess has to pretend to be a man in order to be safe on the road and to be taken seriously, and there is plenty of exploration of male-female dynamics. It's not preachy or one-dimensional, though; there are several good men in the story. A sidelight is provided by Tess's childhood friend, the reptilian quigutl, who was female when they first met but is now male. The quigutls' alien viewpoint provides an interesting counterpoint to Tess's exploration of her own culture's unexamined beliefs.

I listened to this as an audiobook, so I can't comment much on the copy editing, except to say that a crevasse is not a crevice, and a baronet is not a baron, or anything like one. Apart from these glitches, I had no issue with the prose or the worldbuilding.

This is marked as the first in a new series, and I will definitely read a sequel when it arrives.

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