Tress of the Emerald Sea is a beautifully inspired fantasy adventure novel written by Brandon Sanderson that reignited my passion for reading and writing. The story follows the titular character of Tress in a reverse Princess Bride style quest to save her boyfriend Charlie from a powerful sorceress. To that end, she takes to the Emerald Sea and becomes a pirate sailing towards her destiny.
The Emerald Sea is as much of a character in this book as Tress. On this world, the ocean is made of alien spores that drift down from the moon and coalesce into the “water” that Tress has to sail across to rescue Charlie. While the different cities and people of this world are not fleshed out within the text, we learn a lot about how they sail across spores and survive in a world where the seas are uniquely treacherous. The pirates who join Tress are a colorful assortment of ruffians who form a found family with our heroine. One of the side characters aboard the ship is the book’s narrating voice, and a recurring character in other Sanderson novels, named Hoid.
This makes Tress of the Emerald Sea feel like a fairy tale being told to us by a friend. It is filled with his own quips and interjections, many of which are humorous or emotional. At times this voice becomes too strong and bleeds into the way that some of the characters speak and interact. It’s still entertaining on the whole but even Sanderson has admitted that this was his first time writing in this style and there may be some edges to this type of composition that still need to be polished away.
If you liked the way that the Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks brought a sense of levity to a potentially dangerous fantasy world then you might like the story of Tress. Thematically it felt similar to the novel Stardust by Neil Gaiman. The plot is tight and easy to read in the same vein as Tolkien’s The Hobbit. However, if you enjoyed The Hobbit for the masterful descriptions of the lore and setting then you won’t find that same level of detailed prose here.
In a way that can feel utilitarian, Sanderson’s style of writing is not overly descriptive of scene or character. On the same token, he is an expert at writing in a way that is both approachable and interesting because of how he keeps the plot moving forward wrinkle free. There were certain elements along the way that could have been explained better but one of the challenges unique to fantasy is giving the reader enough information to make sense of the story without bogging them down in the textbook level details required to understand how “magic” or other fictitious elements truly work.
While some of the plot points seemed to resolve themselves quickly, the growth Tress experienced throughout still felt earned as she had to overcome numerous obstacles from outwitting pirates to dealing with sea monsters. Sanderson laid all of the framework during the course of the adventure that brought us to a captivating ending. I found myself unable to put the book down for the entire second half of its 384 pages.
I would recommend buying the hardback version of this book as it will look great on a shelf or coffee table, has many imaginative illustrations inside, and would be something for a reader of any age to treasure. I know I will be revisiting my copy for many years to come.
Tress of the Emerald Sea is available now from Tor Books.