Tess of the Road

544p. Random. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781101931288.
Gr 9 Up—Set in the same world as Seraphina and Shadow Scales, Hartman's new book is full of dragons, "quigults," and quests. Tess, Seraphina's younger half sister, is a curious girl. From trying to learn how babies are made to sneaking out of the house to attend scientific lectures, she is constantly straining against the boundaries of a very strict patriarchal society. After getting "in trouble" at a young age, she devotes her life to ensuring that her twin sister will make a favorable marriage, thus securing their family's fortunes. Using alcohol to dull her pain eventually causes things to unravel and Tess runs away from the volatile family drama. Out on the road, Tess makes discoveries both personal and scientific that lead her to find peace within herself and a place in the larger world. The author skillfully weaves Tess's current adventures and her backstory, slowly revealing the rape, pregnancy, and subsequent death of her child—which led to her current pain and bitterness, while simultaneously describing her evolution into a strong female protagonist. Hartman tackles complex issues such as gender identity, rape culture, and a sex-positive outlook without including graphic sex scenes. Unfortunately, there are so many lessons to be learned, and they are so pervasive, this book reads more like an updated version of an allegorical fairy tale than like an epic fantasy adventure. The slow pacing will deter many of the genre's fans.
VERDICT Additional purchase for larger libraries where character-driven fantasies are in demand or where the author is popular.

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