Tess of the Road

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
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Richly textured fantasy addresses #MeToo issues.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Raises many questions about gender, sex, and identity, as well as sexual harassment, consent, and assault.

Positive Messages

Sometimes you need time away from people in order to see who you and they truly are. Young women can embark on a voyage of self-discovery and return with a new outlook on life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

At the start of the book, Tess is terribly unhappy, seeing herself as disgraced for not being a virgin. She drinks too much and picks fights. When she's forced to leave home, however, she gradually begins to see her own better qualities: her bravery, resourcefulness, and compassion.


A handful of violent scenes, most not graphic in their presentation. Two kidnappers abuse a demented old man, who's eventually rescued. A priest reveals that he has nonconsensual sex with his female servant. One character remembers a sexual assault in her past.


The characters talk about sex frankly but not graphically. Tess viewed by many as "damaged goods" because she had a child out of wedlock in her early teens. At age 18, she develops a healthy romantic relationship with an older man, and there's a mild scene of them in bed together. There's also a scene involving a traveling brothel.


Swearing is kept to a minimum, with perhaps a half-dozen uses of "hell" and "damn," and one or two of "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tess drinks to excess at the beginning of the book, binging on pilfered wine. She punches a priest while drunk and feels compelled to flee the palace.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tess of the Road is a spin-off of Rachel Hartman's acclaimed fantasy Seraphina. The narrative follows Seraphina's younger half-sister as she sets off alone in search of a fabled World Serpent. The story contains violent scenes, including the memory of a sexual assault. Swearing is infrequent and limited mostly to "hell" and "damn." Sex is discussed frankly but not graphically. Tess has a problem with alcohol, which she uses to self-medicate.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old June 6, 2018

Rachel Hartman's rich, captivating fantasy has strong female characters

Tess of the Road is probably one of my favorite books I have read this year. Tess isn't the most likable character there is (she punches a priest and kicks... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byJune bug I February 2, 2021

Such a great book

This book is appropriate and intriguing. I absolutley love it! If you like dragons and adventure this is a perfect book for you! I can't emphasize enough h... Continue reading

What's the story?

As TESS OF THE ROAD begins, Tess, the black sheep of the family, chafes at her subordination to her soon-to-be-married twin sister. Already judged harshly for having had a child out of wedlock, Tess creates even more of a scandal by spoiling the wedding ceremony. Disguising herself as a boy, she sets off on a quest to find the fabled World Serpent. Along the way, she reunites with Pathka, a reptilian friend and mentor, and meets new companions, all the while keeping her own set of secrets.

Is it any good?

Coming-of-age stories are the bread and butter of the YA market, but this richly textured fantasy tale of self-discovery is something special. Tess of the Road is both witty and gritty, not shying away from its darker themes but leaving plenty of room for lighter moments. Author Rachel Hartman has created a heroine who refuses to be defined by the misfortunes that have happened to her. Fans of Seraphina won't be disappointed, and newcomers should have no problem in falling under Hartman's narrative spell. At the end, it's clear that there will be further adventures, but there's enough of a sense of resolution that readers won't feel cheated.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Tess of the Road addresses issues of sexual harassment and assault. How are those issues portrayed in the media? Why has the #MeToo movement become so visible?

  • How does Tess of the Road address issues of gender and identity? How is Tess treated differently when she dresses as a boy?

  • How does the book portray alcohol abuse? Why does the character involved drink to excess?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Themes & Topics

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