“One of the great tragedies of life is knowing how many people in the world are made to soar, paint, sing, or steer—except they never get the chance to find out.”
Originally conceived as a personal gift for his wife, Brandon Sanderson has now gifted Tress of the Emerald Sea to the world for all of us to enjoy. Tress of the Emerald Sea is like a warm hug from Sanderson, a whimsical coming-of-age tale that finds the author at the peak of his storytelling powers.
Tress is a seemingly ordinary girl who lives on an island surrounded by a vast emerald-green sea. Tress enjoys the simple things in life: spending time with her family, listening to stories, and admiring her collection of cups. But when her good friend Charlie disappears during a voyage at sea, Tress knows that she must take action if she ever wishes to see him again.
In true Brandon Sanderson fashion, Tress of the Emerald Sea puts journey before destination. Although her goal is to rescue Charlie, the real focus of the novel is on Tress’s growth throughout her journey, which includes plenty of self-discovery as Tress assumes the roles of ship inspector, pirate, and scientist.
With her unbridled curiosity and ingenuity, Tress reminds me of a young Navani from Rhythm of War, the fourth book of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Just as Navani explores the science of stormlight, inventing new ways to harness its power, Tress experiments with the mysterious and dangerous spores that shower down on her world.
Another highlight of the book is Hoid’s narration. Sanderson fans know Hoid as the key unifying figure of his interconnected universe, the Cosmere. Always full of wit, Hoid is an absolute delight as narrator, giving Tress of the Emerald Sea a charm and whimsy that recalls William Goldman’s classic, The Princess Bride:
“It’s really not a problem that someone needs to be saved. Everyone needs help. It’s hard to be the person who makes trouble, but the thing is, everyone makes trouble. How would we help anyone if nobody ever needed help?”
The book is full of insightful and quotable passages that touched my heart. One of the major ideas explored in Tress of the Emerald Sea is that of memory, reminding me of Mark Lawrence’s The Book That Wouldn’t Burn:
“Memory is often our only connection to who we used to be. Memories are fossils, the bones left by dead versions of ourselves.”
For all its coziness, Tress of the Emerald Sea also has some surprisingly dark moments, including mild elements of body horror. Fortunately, these darker scenes work well to build tension during Tress’s quest, aiding in her character development.
Tress of the Emerald Sea is a delight in every respect. Brandon Sanderson’s words are accepted as some of the best from his incredibly prolific career. This gem of a novel is both the perfect introduction to Sanderson’s universe and a delightful treat for well-traveled worldhoppers of the Cosmere.