Book Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea: A Cosmere Novel by Brandon Sanderson

This is not a book, on paper (ironic I know), that I should have enjoyed. There’s so much absurdity and randomness to it, strange conveniences and surprising developments, honestly things that few writers could ever pull off. Yet here we have a book by Brandon Sanderson that, not only includes all these things, but does it in a way that’s incredibly entertaining and a delight to read. I found myself absorbed and reading without ever feeling bored or uninterested. It’s wild just how imaginative and creative Tress of the Emerald Sea ended up being, but it was an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

Character Development

It was genuinely surprising how loveable the characters ended up being. Tress might be one of my personal favorite protagonists I’ve read in a YA fantasy novel in a long time. Unlike most fantasy novels, Tress isn’t some magical chosen character. She’s not a hero, nor is she magical or special in the sense of having a set of skills or powers. No, Tress is something far more special and fascinating. Tress is both clever and kind. It’s a rare combination not seen in many characters, especially in YA novels. Most of the time protagonists are often sullen, angsty, angry at the world and cursed by fate in strange and cruel ways. But Tress is a breath of fresh air and the way she tackles challenges that arise is both clever and rather whimsical, making her a fun protagonist to follow.

The supporting cast is also surprisingly endearing for how strange and weird some of them can be. But despite their quirks and strange behaviour, they still feel like real characters with their own beliefs and goals. One in particular who, by all means is the strangest way to write a character, is sort of the point of view narrator of the story. Not only does he narrate the story to the reader, adding his colourful descriptions to the story, he’s also an important character in the story. He interacts with Tress but also stays distant. It’s an odd way to write a narrator but it surprisingly works here.


Despite how whimsical and wild the story can get, it becomes surprisingly predictable. Most of the twists in the narrative are rather easy to guess but there are some genuine surprises that still make the story a treat to read. The main criticism would be how the middle part of the book feels very long compared to the beginning and the climax. It takes a very long time for the plot to advance but, with how Tress is as a character, it makes sense that the story would be slower. It’s purely character driven and Tress is a very careful and methodical character. As a result, it takes a while and meticulous planning and thought before something happens. Tress also comes off as very kind and personable so a large amount of the story is mostly talking and learning about the other characters.


The concept of the spores is fascinating as it basically replaces the oceans entirely. But what makes it fascinating is the depth to which Sanderson explains how the seas are different from one another and how they can even function. The way the ships sail across the seas and the dangers of travel across the various different spores. The explanation for the spores, however, is a bit odd and not quite clear however. There’s a sense of a larger universe (potentially literally?) throughout the story as explained by certain characters that feel oddly out of place. The explanation for their presence or even their existence is confusing and not quite clear which leads to moments of confusion. However it doesn’t detract from the story as a whole and still serves as a relatively decent explanation, if a little lacking in some areas.

Writing Style

In a rare case for Sanderson from the books he’s written, the way this book is written can be rather difficult at times. This is due to the fact that the story is predominantly written in third person limited omniscient perspective through Tress but then randomly turns to first person narrative, seemingly fully omniscient through the perspective of another character. It comes across rather jarring when it happens and initially takes the reader out of the moment as they come to recognize what had happened. However after a while it becomes an expected, if slightly annoying, part of the story. Thankfully the bulk of the story stays in third person following the actions and thoughts of Tress. It can be a bit of a slog through some of the chapters as, once again, Tress is a very careful and methodical character so there’s more dialogue and exposition than action one might expect from a YA Fantasy novel.


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