Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea

Posted: April 19, 2023 by in Books We Like (4.4/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEAS might well have started with “Once Upon a Time” because it has much the same tone as any fairytale–original or modern. Tress is our main character, a teenage girl with simple wants, who also happens to be in love with the duke’s son, Charlie. But when his father discovers their budding romance, he takes the boy to court and attempts to marry him off to a young woman with more status. However, the duke underestimates the strength of Tress and Charlie’s friendship, and Charlie successfully bores the noble girls away (I know this sounds weird, but this is Sanderson and he loves his goofy camp). Unfortunately, his punishment is to be sent to fight the infamous sorceress of the Midnight Sea, which results in his capture.

And this is where Tress’ adventure begins.

Set in the world of the Cosmere, this standalone novel still has much of the same flavor as MISTBORN (with a little Terry Pratchett thrown in), but on a more intimate scale. Here the seas are not made of water, but of spores that fall from the moons. Tress lives on an island surrounded by the Emerald Sea, but when the spores come in contact with a liquid such as water (or sweat or blood or saliva) then it creates vines that could kill you. However, that’s just the Emerald Sea, imagine what different horrors the Scarlet or the Midnight Seas could do to you. But there’s more: pirates, talking rats, a sorceress of unusual origins, a doctor who’s a zombie, and of course the irreverent Hoid (aka Wit).

While Tress is the main character, it is Hoid who is our storyteller. If anyone but Brandon were writing the story, I don’t think this would work (seriously, how does he get away with this stuff?). But it’s Hoid’s witty observations, asides about the human experience, and understanding of human behavior that makes the narration entertaining. It even works when Hoid narrates third person from Tress’ POV (seriously, HOW?).

A laugh-out-loud story of friendship and perseverance, TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEAS gives the fairytale genre a much-needed update.

It’s fun to watch Tress’s character evolve over the course of the novel while still staying true to herself at the end. Certainly she has simple wants while living on the island, but when the person she loves the most is forced to leave, she has to go find him and save him if she can. While she expects it to be difficult, she didn’t expect it to be this difficult; her naiveté is a severe limitation in a situation like this. But Tress has a superpower: she thinks things through and doesn’t make assumptions. It is her conscientiousness that keeps Tress alive, and also contributes to the ingenuity and problem solving she needs to not only survive but thrive. Beyond that, Tress is a good person and even pirates will respond to that. Invariably, she influences the people around her for good.

While the premise of the story isn’t new, Sanderson gives the genre a much-needed update. TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEA will be so much fun to read with your kids–I laughed out loud several times–but beyond that it’s the story’s themes of love, friendship, and perseverance that make this an uplifting read in the end, as well.

  • Recommended Age: 9+
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Death (one with blood) and peril
  • Sex: None


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