Tress of the Emerald Sea Review – A Gemstone that Truly Glitters

By JoshuaMacDougall on

About JoshuaMacDougall

Joshua (He/Him) is a contributor and writer for the Reading section of Geekly.
He is an enthusiast for fantasy novels, tabletop games, and wrestling.
Follow him @FourofFiveWits on Twitter.


It feels cliché to say, even though it rings true, but Tress of the Emerald Sea feels like it’s the Brandon Sanderson remix of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Not only will I not be the first to say it, but the author outright says it in the Postscript in a lovely story about how he showed The Princess Bride movie during the Covid-19 lockdown, and he and his wife thought, what if Princess Buttercup went after Wesley herself instead of waiting around? Therefore, I’ll keep the comparisons limited to this paragraph, but the comparisons can’t be helped. Like its inspiration, Tress of the Emerald Sea’s foundation is built on adventure, whimsy, and comedy that feels natural to the story, which needs to be stated how hard that is to accomplish. Then Sanderson pours in everything that makes him one of the most popular authors today: a magic system with thought and rules that make sense without losing what makes it magic. It’s a balancing act, and this book does it while maintaining a tone different from other entries in the author’s Cosmere.

The story is not a fairy tale for children. It feels like on the level of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, a story written for adults and Brandon Sanderson fans alike. If you love the Cosmere, Sanderson is satisfied in planting seeds of information of the greater mega narrative he is telling without being a distraction from the story. What is the story about? A young woman from a low-income family and the son of a duke love each other, much to the duke’s chagrin, so he takes him away from their island home, where a sorceress kidnaps his son. It’s up to Tress to leave her island home, join a crew of newly made pirates, and somehow get from the emerald sea to the midnight sea to rescue the man she loves. It’s more than that, though; it’s about the lengths we’ll go to help another person, how it is okay to trust other people, to ask for help.

The sea from which the title gets its name is not water but spores that drop from twelve different moons that produce twelve distinct colored spores that fall to the planet, creating distant colored seas such as the emerald. Those spores fluidize somehow, in a way I know is based on natural science, but I can’t say I fully understood the concept, nor do I need to. It’s fascinating enough, as many of Sanderson’s magic systems are, that even if you don’t fully grasp the concept as I did, it serves the story well in fun ways and scenarios. Let it be said that Sanderson’s magic system is complex and simple at the same time, and this is no easy feat, but by now, it feels old hat for the author to pull it off.

What, to me, is even harder to pull off and has often fallen flat with Sanderson’s stories and characters is to write funny. I love many Brandon Sanderson books, characters, stories, and world-building. Still, I often find that when Sanderson tries to write comic characters, they often come off as more annoying, try-hard, and too often, Spider-Man levels of quippy with material that does not land, in my personal opinion. However, writing funny is no easy feat, but the one character who has always made me laugh as intended and whose quips and one-liners have always crashed for me comes from the illusive but ever-repeating Hoid. Therefore, having a storyteller such as Hoid narrate this tale helped to give this book its voice and humor. A voice that induced a chuckle to a laugh quite often. Though in the postscript, the author believes he didn’t quite get Hoid’s voice the way he hoped to, believing he has written him with too much notion, I would read every Sanderson book through Hoid’s voice if I could. He knows when to intercede with information, when to compliment the actions of our heroine, Tress, and when to unsheathe his wit to make the reader smile.

Tress of the Emerald Sea might be the most approachable book in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, with a straightforward story without losing what draws people to the author: unique worlds, magic, and characters. It is a joy to read both for returning readers of the author and those picking him up for the first time.

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Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit Books.

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