Series: Tess of the Road is the first in a series, but it’s a companion series to Seraphina and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. I first read Seraphina in March of 2018 and Shadow Scale in June of 2018 (and reread them both in 2020). I love these books, and I’ve been putting off reading Tess of the Road both to extend the pleasure of anticipation and also out of fear that it wouldn’t measure up.
What I remembered about this series prior to reading this book: I mean, a lot. I’ve read Seraphina three times since 2018, and Shadow Scale twice. I love the world in these books so, so much.
Why I stopped reading the series: Like I said above. . . partially out of the joy of anticipation and partly out of fear. And it took me a long time–almost two months–to finish Tess of the Road. Not because I didn’t like it–I loved it–but because I have to savor these books.
The plot: Tess–younger half-sister of Seraphina, the protagonist in the first two books–is the black sheep of her family. This book takes place after the events in Shadow Scale, so Seraphina is now a hero and firmly embedded into the royal circle in their country, Goredd. Tess and her twin Jeanne are expected to become ladies of the court and marry well, because even with Seraphina’s success the family doesn’t have much money. Tess, who’s had a difficult life which is slowly unfolded throughout the book, is her mother’s scapegoat and never seems to do anything right. Eventually, after making a fool of herself by getting drunk at Jeanne’s wedding, Tess runs away. The book is picaresque, following Tess as she wanders, sometimes with her quigutl (a kind of smaller, lesser dragon) friend, Pathka, sometimes alone, meeting people and having adventures. Eventually some Big Things happen to her that help her begin to heal from her very sad past.
The good: Just like Seraphina and Shadow Scale this is a beautiful, silly, funny book. Tess is so perfectly prickly, and hard to love, and hard to resist, and her moments of vulnerability are so touching. I was sure I wouldn’t like her as well as I liked Seraphina, but in a way she’s an even better, more fully realized character. As Tess found herself confronting the traumas of her past, my heart ached for her, and some of her thoughts resonated so strongly with me that I actually gasped out loud, that I wasn’t the only one. Tess just broke my heart (in a good way). I also love the way Rachel Hartman approaches gender and sexuality in these books. I was pleased when Seraphina put in an appearance, and like the way this book resolved a few outstanding questions about her from Shadow Scale.
The bad: Not much–in some sections, there’s quite a bit about the quigutl and their culture, and I was less interested in those characters, but it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment.
Did Tess of the Road change my mind about this series? No, I love these books even more now, which I didn’t think was possible.
Will I keep reading this series? I believe Hartman is writing Tess of the Sea right now, and I can’t wait to read it.