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.
I have so many mixed feelings about this one so I’m going to do my best and try to articulate what I loved and what didn’t really work for me. Here we go!
Tess is such an interesting character. Honestly this book is more of a character study than anything so if that’s your thing you may love this. At first I didn’t really like Tess at all–she’s acting out at her sister’s wedding dinner and generally being kind of extra for seemingly no reason at all. Even though we’re seeing things from her POV it’s hard to get a read on her and understand why she’s acting this way. Obviously there is something going on there that we’re not being made privy to. Slowly, we start getting hints. And then the story begins alternating back and forth between the Tess’s journey in the present and the events of her past. We begin to see what happened to shape Tess’s life into who she is at the start of the book. Tess’ journey is not just a physical one, but also a journey of self-discovery where she begins to figure if she can reconcile herself with her past in order to be different going forward. She has to face a lot of hard truths during this journey, the first and foremost that life is unfair–bad things happen to good people. People get blamed for things that aren’t their fault. It’s how you deal with that, how you react to it, that makes all difference into who you are.
That’s the long and short of what the book is about. Tess meets many people along the way, some old friends and some new. Some characters that will be familiar to readers that have read the Seraphina books. Through all of these interactions Tess learns a little more about herself.
There’s also a reoccurring plot about world serpents, seven great dragons that live within the Earth. I’ll be honest and say that this whole subplot kind of bored me but some of it was pivotal to keep parts of the plot moving, as it was even this story of the world serpents which kicked into motion much of Tess’s journey to begin with.
The things I LOVED about this book was Tess’s journey of self-discovery. It’s an intensely personal journey. Like I said earlier, at first I found it really hard to like Tess because she was an absolute mess and acting selfishly. This story made me have a better understanding of people like Tess. At a certain point she decides she wants to do better and she still makes mistakes. The difference is that now she gives herself permission to take those mistakes and learn from them instead of using that hurt to become a prickly cactus to everyone around her. The other thing I LOVED about this book was how utterly feminist it was. There are many different kinds of women represented here in various roles and along with that an examination of women’s roles within their society as Tess rails against how unfair life can be for a woman in Goredd.
The things I didn’t like so much about this book–well, the pacing is abysmal in a lot of the book. Many parts feel like they drag and because of the nature of the story there’s not a ton of action. While I appreciated the non-linear storytelling, I found it especially hard to keep track of ‘when’ it was supposed to be while listening to the audio. The current story-line progresses lineally while the flashbacks are all out of order so that Tess’ history is revealed in the most dramatic fashion–which, again, I appreciated but just found tough to follow at times. Some of the characters, like the quigutls, I just found annoying and struggled to understand why Tess was friends with them.
Overall, this was a mixed bag for me but the parts that I loved will propel me on to the next book when it comes out. 3.5/5 stars.