I see why people like this one, and I see why people hate it. I feel like I fall somewhere in the middle of the road (see what I did there), but this felt like a journey, and left me feeling somewhat indifferent to it despite a beginning that left me so excited for where the story was going.
I did not read Seraphina, nor any other book by Rachel Hartman before I jumped into this at the recommendation of one of my classmates. I came into it with no idea of the world or how it works, but I didn't find that it hindered my understanding of Tess and her place in the grand scheme of things. This is a world with dragons and magic and political dynamics that reflect an old world, with all the patriarchy and misogyny that comes along with it. Tess is a girl who is rebellious, unrepentant, and brash, and I loved those aspects of her personality.
The story is what left me feeling kind of put off by the whole enterprise of this novel. Tess punches a priest, and rather than get sent to a monastery, she begins her journey on the road. She walks, and she walks, and she walks, and...you guessed it, she walks. It becomes her mantra - "walk on" - and the whole book is, basically, her walking on. I get that this is a character study; there are a lot of flashbacks to Tess's life before, how she got to the point of needing to be on her own, how she became the "younger" sibling despite her age in order for her sister to be the one to marry and carry on the family name, and how the traumas of her past inform the way she conducts herself in the present. But the episodes of her adventure feel like just that - episodes that left me wondering how they connect to everything else, and when they didn't, kind of like I had been cheated of something.
I invested a ton of time in Tess and her story. 16 hours of listening, in fact. And somewhere along the line, I went from wanting desperately to know what happened next, to being indifferent, to playing it at double speed just to get through it. As a character, I loved Tess. As a story, I disliked the episodic nature of the narrative and how everything just happens to Tess. She is an agent of change in her own humanity and in taking the reins of her own choices, but ultimately, she stumbles into a lot of things, and kind of continues stumbling along as they happen to her. I didn't connect with her like I thought I would after the first few chapters, and that makes me think that Hartman's world just isn't for me.