• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of In the Serpent's Wake (Tess of the Road #2) by Rachel Hartman

I wished for more of a focus on the character of Tess and her personal story--and less on political strategies, power plays, and the many other broad issues Hartman explores over the course of this almost-500-page sequel to Tess of the Road.

In Rachel Hartman's Tess of the Road, we followed irresistible, hardheaded, wonderfully faulted Tess as she broke from rigid medieval gender roles in favor of adventure and discovery. That book was captivating, sometimes weighty, and often playful. I loved it.

In the Serpent's Wake picks up where Tess of the Road left off. We're reintroduced to the story with an introductory poem written in verse that is funny, poignant--and also extremely helpful in its recap. It's the perfect reentry to the wonderfully cheeky, strong, faulted character of Tess as she tries yet again to be a loyal friend, refrain from punching people in the nose, and save the world.

But the scope of In the Serpent's Wake is far broader than that of the first book. This second installation departs from a focus on Tess and her personal growth.

Instead, the almost 500 pages of In the Serpent's Wake explores enormous, broad issues: colonization, persecuted indigenous people, human rights, racism, fights for autonomy, misogyny, and more. I was more eager to read more about Tess as a character than the extensive political machinations in the book and the shifting loyalties related to control of lands and attempted control of peoples and creatures.

The sharing of stories and folklore through generations and cultures was a small-scale highlight. Hartman's sabanewts are fascinating creatures--and they also demand of the book's characters a new understanding of ownership, freedom, resources, and more.

I loved the feminism, the complicated but steadfast friendships, and the dogged independence that various characters exhibit against all odds. I also enjoyed Tess's recognizing shades of gray where she once saw black-and-white right and wrong.

But I wanted far more of a focus on Tess and for her to play a more key role in the book's events, as she did in book one. The rest of this book felt like a distraction from the character I love, and ultimately I wasn't particularly engaged with the broader story.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Click here to check out my review of the first book in this series, Tess of the Road.

Hartman is also the author of Seraphina and Shadow Scale.