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Review: 'Tess of the Road' captures the imagination

At first glance, “Tess of the Road” is a travelogue of the Southlands, part of the fictional world developed by Rachel Hartman in the Seraphina duology. Ultimately, “Tess of the Road” is a journey of self-discovery.

As the younger, somewhat infamous sister of Seraphina, Tess has a tough road ahead of her. She has been branded a troublemaker. Seemingly never able to do anything right, despite her many sacrifices to improve her family financial and social standing, Tess gives up on trying to help and please everyone and runs away.

But Tess isn’t just running away from the responsibilities of finding a good match for her twin sister in the Goreddi court. Tess has a bigger secret she is running from and Hartman does an excellent job weaving this reveal into the larger narrative of Tess’s journey.

In light of the #MeToo movement, Tess’s secret and her personal journey will resonate with many readers. A young woman taken in by the first man to notice her for the intelligent young lady that she is when she can’t yet see it for herself, Tess’ confidence and self-worth are shaken when the young man suddenly disappears.

Self-loathing and self-doubt take root in Tess’s heart and mind. As Tess shares her physical and emotional struggles throughout her journey through the Southlands, readers will be heartbroken, but by the end, admiration prevail.

In addition to discovering the truth behind Tess’s true reasons for running away, Hartman gives readers a bit of insight into the dragon subspecies of quigutl.

Throughout the original duology and in the early pages of “Tess of the Road,” there is a negative feeling around the quigutls.

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But Tess sees them for more. When she crosses paths with an old quigutl friend, Pathka, she seizes the opportunity to become reacquainted with the quigutl culture and invites Pathka to join her on her trip.

Through their adventures together, Tess discovers that she and the quigutls have something in common — neither are thought of fondly by others, especially by those of their own species, and both of them have troubled pasts.

Tess isn’t as alone as she thinks, and as her journey comes to a close she finds there is more to everyone than what is presented publicly.

The craft with which Hartman layers the history and mythology of Goredd with the characters’ back stories is captivating.

There are parallels between the layers that are not immediately realized. Beyond the idea of looking for acceptance of self and of others, Hartman tackles what each culture, human and quigutl, believes is a healthy parent/child relationship.

As each character comes to grip with their own personal narrative and bits of truth are discovered, there is release and acceptance on a personal level.

This new novel from Hartman, set in the same world as the Seraphina duology, allows readers to return to the amazing world of Goredd, where humans and dragons coexist in a tentative peace.

“Tess of the Road” has heart and is a rewarding emotional journey to discover the truth of a legend and the truth of self.

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