CRUISING THE COSMERE: Tress of the Emerald Sea (BOOK REVIEW)
“That said, you must understand that this is a tale about people who are both what they seem and not what they seem.
Simultaneously. A story of contradictions. In other words, it is a story about human beings.”
With the release of The Lost Metal, the final book in Mistborn era two, I thought my time cruising the Cosmere would come to a pause until the next Stormlight Archive instalment would be released. It seemed Brandon Sanderson had other plans, rather big ones.
Welcome to the Year of Sanderson, a year where fans are treated to four secret projects which the author had been working on during the lockdown. As most people are aware these projects began as exclusive books that backers of the Kickstarter would receive, along with plenty of swag, but then later were picked up by various publishers to be accessible to those, like myself, who couldn’t afford the Kickstarter. And the first of those books truly sets us on sail for a fantastic year.
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson is a wild seafaring adventure with charm, whimsy, visual beauty and Sanderson’s trademark inventiveness.
Enter a world where there are twelve moons, each one pouring dust-like spores on all beneath, creating twelve variously coloured seas made not of water but of these spores. A single drop of water can turn these spores into treacherous vines or crystals, destroying all within its path. Silver and salt are the only defence available and so life on this planet is one of hardship. On a small island known as the Rock, on Diggen’s Point, lives a simple washer-girl called Tress. The island is all she has ever known, her days are content baking, buying meagre supplies at the market, collecting cups the sailors bring her and most of all visiting the Duke’s son, Charlie, and listening to his stories. Yet when the Duke takes Charlie away from the island and leaves him trapped by the infamous Sorceress upon the Midnight Sea, Tress sets forth to rescue her dear Charlie. In a most daring escapade Tress will face many dangers along the way including pirates, cannon fire, a tyrant captain, a dragon and the Sorceress herself, but Tress will also discover just what she is truly capable of.
Tress of the Emerald Sea begins as an adorable coming of age love story. Very early on we see how Tress and Charlie are so attached to one another, both understanding each other on a level the rest of the world cannot see. The book is pitched as for fans of The Princess Bride, which is both a book and film I love, so I immediately saw how Tress was Buttercup and Charlie was our Westley, but of course, Sanderson turns this on its head. It is Tress who is our brave hero, the character with the most agency, with Charlie absent for the majority of the book (unlike The Princess Bride where the roles are reversed), the focus falls upon Tress and the story naturally develops into an exciting adventure. Tress is just the kind of female character I have come to expect from Sanderson. She’s bold, courageous even when full of doubt, she’s pragmatic, always using her intelligence to find her way through danger and most of all she’s kind, even to those who are not so kind in return. For a young girl who has spent her life on a rather small island, when Tress’s world gets significantly bigger, she adapts accordingly. Tress’s journey may begin with the aim of saving one person she loves but it soon turns into saving all those she grows to love along the way too.
“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.
Whenever one does discover a moment of joy, beauty enters the world. Human beings, we can’t create energy; we can only harness it.”
Sanderson’s worldbuilding is once again top-notch. Having read The Lost Metal last year we were introduced to the concept of aether with the character TwinSoul, yet in Tress we see the aether in an entirely different way. I won’t go into the correlation between spores and aether as discovering what different kinds of spores do is part of the fun of this novel and crucial to Tress’s growth. However, what I will say though is how Sanderson has meticulously designed this world to accommodate the spores. As I have mentioned, water turns spores deadly and salt and silver are the two main sources of turning the spores grey so they can no longer burst into vines, therefore on Tress’s island they drink salt tea, keep water in deep underground aquifers and only grow food in compost vats. Yet beyond the island, ships bring in trade and supplies, but sailing on spores is no easy feat. When Tress boards upon The Crow’s Song she begins a journey across the Emerald and Crimson seas and the reader gets to fully understand how a ship sails on spores and what the various crew members’ roles are to make each journey run as smoothly as possible. For example the ship needs to navigate through seethes, bursts of air from vents beneath the spores, and when those seethes lull the ship comes to a standstill, which is not great for a pirate ship trying to escape an enemy’s cannons shooting spores and water at you! So there is also the concept of a Sprouter who acts as the ship’s repairman, they experiment with spores to create vines that work to patch up any damages to the ship during attacks. I am always in awe of how Sanderson creates these highly fantastical worlds, so visually stunning, but how he also manages to make them plausible, to make them feel real.
“We hunt for bravery, cleverness, heroism. And we find no shortage of such virtues. Legends are silly with them.
But the person who is willing to reconsider their assumptions? The hero who can sit down and reevaluate their life? Well, now that is a gemstone that truly glitters, friend.”
An aspect I was not expecting though was how whimsical and humorous this story would be, again much akin to the tone in The Princess Bride. Of course Sanderson treats his longtime fans to many subtle connections to the other Cosmere books throughout, a few of which I didn’t even realise until I started discussing it with others, however the biggest connection lies in our narrator. If you do not wish to know who narrates this story, then look away now…
Hoid is just the perfectly entertaining narrator we all needed. His little injections of sarcasm, his philosophical ideas, his further insights into each of the characters were all highly entertaining and made it easy for me to be swept away by the story. Hoid is also a crew member on The Crow’s Song and he’s quite the quirky one at that, although the ship had no shortages of quirky characters. From Tress’s main companion, a talking rat called Huck, to Dr Ulaam’s obsession with collecting body parts, to an aspiring cannonmaster who cannot aim to save her, or anyone else’s lives, to Fort the cook who… cannot cook, and a crew largely made up of Doug’s, this book is delightfully comedic. I have to also mention here how wonderful Fort’s character is and how well his Deaf representation is executed. Together this crew delivered us plenty of moments of swashbuckling chaos and whimsy which had me smiling the whole way through. I’m used to Sanderson making me cry, making me feel awe, I’m even used to him making me laugh, but the heartwarming cosy feeling this book gave me, the sense of a nostalgic adventure from books I’d read in my childhood, was something completely new. I loved it.
Tress of the Emerald Sea is a tale to be devoured by all readers who relish cosy, heartfelt and hopeful stories. It is a tale that brought me immense joy and I’m grateful to Sanderson for sharing it with the world.
“In the frenzied anarchy of destruction, loyalty to causes and kingdoms alike tends to fall to the chaos. But the bond between people, well, that’s stronger than steel. If you want to create heroes, don’t give them something to fight for. Give them someone to fight for.”
ARC provided by Jenna at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much for the copy!
Tress of the Emerald Sea is out now!