DNF Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman


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Published: 27 February 2018

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Category: Fantasy/Young Adult

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.


DNF @ 23/69%

Caution (highlight for content warning/spoiler-ish note): content relating to the premature birth and death of an infant

I didn’t think it necessary to read the Seraphina books before picking up Tess of the Road, and according to the author via a Goodreads questions, it isn’t strictly required. However, the further I got, the more I had the suspicion that, while designated a “companion” novel, it was more of a rough sequel about secondary characters. There were events that I was in the dark about that seemed to matter a great deal to the underlying story, but did not occur within Tess of the Road. Apparently Hartman’s husband recommends reading Seraphina first, a note I didn’t catch until too late. That book will provide some setup for the world and the creatures that inhabit it.

That being said, I got along alright with the hints and whatnot, making as educated a guess as I could to people and their motivations. I noticed, though, that while the writing was good in and of itself, the plot was…I don’t want to say nonexistent, exactly, but it was lacking the oomph to make it truly interesting. I checked my progress at one point, found myself a quarter of the way into the book, and realized I wasn’t engaged in anyone’s story, not really. Things were happening, the plot moved from point a to b to c, but the journey was dull.

Tess was a complicated character in that I couldn’t figure out whether I liked her or not. There were many times when personality sparkled out of her and others when she said she wanted freedom but relaxed into the constraints placed upon her by family and society. Even after she finally gets on the road (not, as the synopsis says, disguised as a boy at first), she had several instances of doubt and even hope that someone such as her father would come looking for her, happy to find her safe, and take her home. Tess felt very fickle and I wasn’t sure what side of her I was going to see from one moment to the next.


I had to stop reading this book because of something I read when skipping ahead. As I noted above, I found the story written well enough but the journey boring. That being said, I was curious if things would move along, be resolved, etc. and in skipping ahead I read a few pages that sickened me due to personal reasons.


There are hints throughout the book that Tess has “gone wrong”, so to speak. There are rumors she’s a harlot, that she’s behaved badly, etc. The reader learns early on that she was pregnant out of wedlock and that was one of the few points of interest I had in the book. Skipping ahead, I found out that the baby died three days after having been born and the description of his skin, his breathing…it was too hard for me to read, having a son that was born at 26 weeks gestation and nearly not surviving. I didn’t want to continue, knowing that there might be more allusions to that event somewhere unawares in the text.


I may read the Seraphina books at some point in the future, but I will be intensely wary because of the aforementioned pages and how ill I felt after reading them. Perhaps others will find Tess of the Road enjoyable, but I couldn’t.






I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

3 thoughts on “DNF Review: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

  1. I liked Seraphina but never read the second book of the duology. The world building was extremely interesting but I didn’t love the ending. I will not be reading any other books set in this world but I would be willing to try something else written by the author.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

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