Tess of the Road (Rachel Hartman)

Tess of the Road is a companion novel to the Seraphina duology by Rachel Hartman.
Finished on: 9.5.2019
[Here are my reviews of the other novels in the series.]

Tess doesn’t have a very good standing with her family. Tasked with helping to secure a husband for her twin sister Jeanne, Tess is often either ignored or blamed for just about everything. After she gets into an altercation with her brother-in-law Jacomo on Jeanne’s wedding night, she loses her place in the family. She finds refuge with her older sister Seraphina for a few days, while she figures out what to do next. There aren’t all that many options. Encouraged by Seraphina, Tess takes the riskier option, though, and does not join the convent, but rather goes on an adventure.

Tess of the Road impressed me a lot. It deals with very complex (feminist) issues in an easy to understand manner that doesn’t oversimplify. And it is still interesting and an extremely readable text that touched me emotionally as well. It’s fantastic.

The book cover showing a dragon with its head pointed toward a small, fenal figure. In the dragon's shape we can see a mountain village.

Tess is a really great character. She is not always likeable, but she is always relatable and it is great to see her growth. And I loved her relationships with her sisters Seraphina and Jeanne and where they stand at the end. As strange as it may sound, I particularly liked that it isn’t all that happy and everything is resolved. Makes it feel more true. Speaking of, it was really nice to Seraphina again and get a glimpse of where she is at in her life now. I don’t know if those parts of the novel will really speak to people who haven’t read the Seraphina duology, but it’s not a big part of the novel in any case – the focus lies elsewhere.

Oh, and I adored Josquin. In the end, it was really sad, but also fantastic in the way things were left there – much like with Tess’ sisters.

The story may feel slightly familiar, but the well-rounded and unusual characters keep it fresh. And in addition to that, Hartman manages to include so many difficult, feminist topics that explore so much in such a transparent way, it really floored me. The book is especially good when she considers women’s relationships with their bodies in conjuction with religion. But I also really enjoyed the quigutl and their -ute that perfectly expresses a concept I know from philosophy and sociology.

All of that, and the book is still intensely readable, had me blazing through it. I was always completely emotionally involved. That’s what reading should be like.

Summarizing: feminist fiction at its finest.

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