Shamed by her past mistakes, Tess lives in the shadow of her demure twin and the even more formidable shadow of her famous older sister Seraphina. After ruining her twin's wedding and permanently shaming her family, she runs away to live on the road. She meets her childhood friend Pathka and together they set put to find the legendary World Serpents.
Part of the reason I was interested in this book is because I was familiar with the author's previous series, Seraphina, which is the saga of Tess' older half-sister. I never had the chance to read Seraphina when it was popular as I was in the middle of a reading-intensive college program that didn't allow for much leisurely reading, but I heard great thing about the book from friends and colleagues. I've also always been excited about the unexpected journey theme and couldn't wait to read this book.
Rachel Hartman, in her character Tess, does something that is so difficult to do successfully. Her main character is terribly, deeply flawed. She starts the story as an alcoholic, self-destructive, violent and shattered person, and piece by piece, slowly throughout the novel she begins to put herself back together, but even as a flawed protagonist, she's incredibly likable. More than likable, she's relatable and a breath of fresh area in the genre of Young Adult Fantasy. So often when we have female mail characters, they're wholesome, quite, bookworms or maybe they're feisty, sarcastic and accomplishment driven. Tess is none of these. She's a whole unique character that I was intrigued by within the first few pages.
While the world this novel takes place in relies heavily on events that took place in the Seraphina series, I was still given more than enough information to understand the dynamics and rules of the world. What interested me the most was the races in this world. Tess's best friend is off a reptile-like race, related to Dragons, called Quigutls. They're mostly looked down on by other people, but Tess has a respect for Pathka and her people and explores their traditions, culture and lore. The readers are also able to learn a bit about the democractic relationships in this world through Tess's travel through the neighboring country.
While a lot happens in this book, it is fairly slow paced and long. There are some brief moments of action, but they're quick and don't require much build up or reflection. Much of the events of the story are more like internal revelations for Tess than physical events for her to overcome. While these are heartfelt and rewarding scenes, including the numerous flashbacks to her teenage years, her past love and her greatest regrets, there wasn't much to compel the reader constantly forward other than the vague promise of the World Serpents which may or may not be real. It's a loosely structured plot that breaks many of the molds of the genre, which isn't necessarily bad, but is good for any potential readers to know.
If you love The Name of the Wind and the Song of the Lioness series, even better if like Seraphina, this is a book you should make a must-read. The protagonist, Tess, is beautifully flawed and deliciously complex, as is her quest through the novel. The world Rachel Hartman constructs is unique and compelling in a strange, policitical or educational way. What the books misses in plot and hard action, it makes up for in emotional, tearful scenes of betrayal and redemption. While it's not necessary to read Seraphina prior to reading Tess of the Road, I am definitely interested to read more about this world. The ending is open to a possible sequel so be sure to keep your eye out!