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tress of the emerald sea
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Book details

  • Date Published: April 4, 2023
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Audio: 12 hours 26 minutes
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Content Warning: Violence

Book Summary: Tress of the Emerald Sea

Tress is a 17-year-old girl living on a rock called Diggen’s Point in the middle of the Emerald Sea. She works as a window washer, likes to collect cups, makes good food, and talks to her friend Charlie.

Tress and Charlie both pretend that he’s the gardener for the duke who lives on the island, but in fact, Charlie is the duke’s son. Tress loves to bring the cups she finds to Charlie, and Charlie, in turn, makes up stories to tell Tress about them. It’s clear these two are smitten with each other through their passive-aggressive flirtation, even though they never come out and say it.

The Emerald Sea is not anything like the sea or oceans here on planet Earth. All of the seas in the world where Tress lives are made up of spores, not water. In fact, if water touches the spores, they can become deadly.

The least bit of water would cause the spores to sprout explosively, and the results ranged from uncomfortable to deadly. Breathe in a burst of verdant spores, for example, and your saliva would send vines growing out of your mouth—or in more interesting cases, into your sinuses and out around your eyes.

Tress of the Emerald Sea

Sounds stressful, eh? While the spores were volatile, there were two antidotes: salt and silver. But because of the volatility, the citizens of Diggen’s Point were prohibited from leaving the island. Unless you’re the duke or some other “essential personnel.”

The duke decides that it’s time for Charlie to find a wife, so he takes him on a trip to meet potential marriage partners. But before Charlie leaves, he promises Tress that he’ll make himself so intolerable to the ladies he meets by telling them the longest stories that they will want nothing more than to be rid of him. He sends her new cups for her collection and letters telling her about how he has done just that.

But then, the ship returns with the duke’s son and his new wife, or so she thinks. When they disembark, Charlie has been replaced by a new son. Tress finds out that Charlie was captured by the sorceress on the Midnight Sea.

After much thought and a conversation with her parents, Tress decides she is going to rescue Charlie.

How in the world will a teenage girl who has never left Diggen’s Point in her entire life figure out how to navigate the unpredictable seas that even the most experienced sailors are often unable to do to rescue the boy she loves?

This book takes you on that journey.

Sanderson says that one of his inspirations for this book was The Princess Bride, but with a different spin. He was trying to explore this question in Tress: “What would the story have been like if Butttercup had gone searching for Westley instead of immediately giving him up for dead?”

Tress of the Emerald Sea is part of Brandon Sanderson’s Secret Projects Series, which isn’t a true series because all of the books in the series are standalone novels.

Book Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea

It’s not very often that when I finish a book, I immediately want to go back and read it again, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do when I finished Tress of the Emerald Sea. (And while I haven’t re-read it yet, I definitely plan to do so before this year is over. )

This is a book about bravery, adventure, and unlikely heroes, and it is simply fun to read. Tress has a light, whimsical feel, and that’s not an accident; Sanderson says he was trying to write “a grown-up fairytale.”

In fact, if you were looking for a fantasy book to read on your summer vacation, this is one I would definitely consider.


  • Knowledge is power. It’s easy to make assumptions about things we don’t understand, which may lead us to believe something is bad or a dangerous. But when we begin to understand the true nature of the thing (whatever it is), we may find out there is a way a dangerous thing can also be good and useful if you know how to use it. It would be like if all people knew about horses is that they were wild animals until one day someone took the time to get to know a horse and learn how to tame a horse and how a horse can even be a source of transportation and more!
  • Perception. Perception isn’t reality, but sometimes we can’t tell the difference.
  • Fear. If you can instill enough fear in others, you can control them.
  • Kindess trumps fear. People would much rather follow someone who is thoughtful and kind over someone who wields fear like a weapon.
  • Life experience matures us. Tress goes from being a very naive and innocent girl to a girl who grows and matures as she has to learn how to overcome each new challenge. She truly is a different person at the end of the book compared to the beginning of the book.

What I Loved . . .

  • Tress. Tress is just a delight. When she leaves Diggen’s Point, it’s safe to say that she’s a bit naive. But she is also very thoughtful, which the narrator describes as one of the rarest qualities. This quality, along with her kindness, becomes her greatest weapon as the story unfolds. As a reader, you watch Tress grow up and mature A LOT. For this reason, I definitely think book would be categorized as a coming of age novel.
  • The narrator. I think it’s a bit of a spoiler to give away the narrator’s identity, so I won’t name any names, but I love how the narrator pauses here and there to talk to the audience. It reminds me of TV shows or movies like The Office, when the characters give a wink to the audience when they are about to do something. The narrator also offers philosophical tangents.
  • The quirky characters. Tress is full of endearing and quirky characters. They made the book!
  • Chapter titles. I don’t read a lot of books that have chapter titles, and I really didn’t even think about it until I read this book. Each chapter has a title that describes a person, such as The Groundskeeper, The Rat, The Explorer, etc. These titles give you a clue about who or what character is about to do something important in the story. And I loved it!

The Challenge (For Me) . . .

The hardest part of reading this book has more to do with the genre than with the book itself.

Let me explain.

When I was reading If I Were You by Lynn Austin, and the author said that the characters lived in England, I didn’t have to wonder: What is an England? Is that a place where humans live? Is it safe? Are the waters around England poisonous to humans? Do the humans in that England place have special powers?

You get the picture. When you read fantasy books, you don’t know anything about the world they live in, including its geography, and part of the reading experience is learning (and remembering) all the new rules.

As someone who hasn’t read many fantasy books in recent years (or should I say, decades), it took some getting used to.

Tress of the Emerald Sea FAQs

Does Tress of the Emerald Sea have romance?

Yes. The storyline is partly driven by a romance, but it is a clean romance.

Is Tress of the Emerald Sea appropriate for kids?

I can’t think of anything in this book that would be inappropriate for kids to read, but I don’t think I would give it to a kid before late elementary or early middle school.

Is Tress of the Emerald Sea part of the Cosmere?

Yes, Tress of the Emerald Sea takes place in the Cosmere.

Can you read Tress of the Emerald Sea if you’ve never read any other Cosmere books?

As someone who has never read any other Cosmere books, I can say . . . absolutely! In fact, I decided to start with Tress because I saw this video in which Sanderson says he thinks this is a good place to start. I will say that I was not disappointed, and I did not feel confused because I hadn’t read any of the other books. If anything, it has left me wanting to read more.

What world does Tress of the Emerald Sea take place on?

Tress of the Emerald Sea takes place on the world of Lumar, which is reportedly the first book to take place on this planet.

Who is Tress of the Emerald Sea for?

It’s not very often that I read a book that I think would be enjoyed by readers from 0 to 99, but Tress might be one of those books. But talking more specifically, this book would be a great book if you are a fan of the following:

  • A Princess Bride
  • Character-driven adventures
  • Fans of rich world-building with high-stakes, magical elements.
  • Fans of coming of age novels

Did you read Tress of the Emerald Sea? I would love to hear what you think of this book.

One Comment

  1. I think the main character in this book is the author, possibly voiced through Hoid, and as Charlie…for this reason I find the book a silly adventure poised to delight the masses. His inspiration came from various movies that captured the love of the masses such as the Princess Bride, the Hobbit, and Ratatouille and even the Twilight series. Hoping to do the same, Sanderson spins a confusing tale with common themes and banal humorous intersections he alone must have laughd at until tears squirted out of his eyes at 3 in the morning, only to be egged on by his wife looking at her watch and saying, “Hurry up and publish the damn thing we’ve got kids to feed!” I see no value in this thematically shallow book and it’s shallowness is totally annoying. Bad writing, weak character development and a silly 😜 plot.

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