Tress of the Emerald Sea [BOOK REVIEW]

Tress of the Emerald Sea Cover Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
One Sentence Synopsis: A teenage girl goes on a reckless adventurer through magical seas to rescue her prince from a dangerous sorceress.
Series: Lumar
Formats: Hardcover, Ebook, and Audio book
Release Date: January 1, 2023
Number of Pages: 505 pages
MSRP: $29.99 HC/$9.99 Ebook/TBA Audiobook
Purchase Site:
Reviewed by: J.T. Hanke
Final Score: 4.5 Moons (out of 5)

Tress of the Emerald Sea is the first of Brandon Sanderson’s Four Mystery novels that broke kickstarter in March of 2022. (As of the writing of this review, the campaign received a staggering $41.8 million dollars, the largest campaign in Kickstarter history.)

Tress is the tale of a poor housekeeper and cook who falls into a semi-relationship with Charlie, the Duke’s son—who pretends to be a groundskeeper whenever Tress is around. Tress lives on a remote island on the Emerald Sea—a sea the color of grass due to the type of dangerous spores that fall from one of 12 orbiting moons on the world of Lumar.

Brilliant Moon Award

When the Duke goes overseas to find a more suitable wife for Charlie, taking the boy with him, Tress is grief stricken. Charlie promises to return unmarried and, to prove his loyalty, sends Tress different cups (which she collects) from his different ports of call along with the stories of how he’s evaded various royal couplings. When the cups stop coming, Tress assumes he’s simply had to give into the inevitable and marry someone else.

But when she discovers that he has, in fact, been abducted by the deadly sorceress of the Midnight Sea and, rather than pay his ransom, the Duke simply selected a less aggravating cousin to be his heir, Tress is horrified and enraged. Determined to rescue Charlie, she manages to get on board a merchant ship to adventure through deadly seas, kidnappings, pirates, and mutinies in the pursuit of love.


As the old saying goes, you’ve got to know the rules before you can break them, and Brandon Sanderson has forgotten more about literary constraints than most of us have ever known. As such, he can get away with methods of storytelling that he has no business pulling off, like making the book from the perspective of his favorite Cosmere storyteller, Hoid, who makes his own comments in first person while using third person limited to convey the perspective of Tress (which includes Tress’ thoughts, but no one else’s). Like I said, it should not work, but, somehow, it really does.

That being said, the storytelling in this book is far more direct than any Sanderson book I’ve ever read, focusing, essentially, on a singular character and her perspective in Tress, rather than bouncing around between characters and people groups. (Sanderson has said that The Princess Bride was an inspiration, and I can see that.)

There is a little bit less of a Sander-lanche ending than most of us are used to, but I think that’s probably because, at just over 500 pages, this is one of his shorter books. I really found the ending to be solid, charming, and well worth reaching.  (And if you’re completely new to Sanderson and have no idea what a Sander-lanche is, you don’t need to worry.  This is a book that is a great introduction for folks who are new to him–while still having lots of easter eggs for folks who are very familiar with his work.)


When it comes to dynamics with Sanderson, there are two places that he really shines: interpersonal interactions and magic systems.

The interpersonal interactions between Tress and her unlikely companions are really well crafted and you find yourself becoming more engaged with them as she becomes more enmeshed. One of my favorite characters in the book is Fort, a deaf/mute armorer who uses a magic board to communicate with everyone, and whose loyalty to his friends makes him willing to stick his neck out for Tress repeatedly. Another I really enjoyed is Ann, a ship’s carpenter who dreams of being a canon-master but whose horrible aim makes her a danger to everyone on her own ship. Huck–the talking rat–and Ulaam–the undead surgeon who swaps out body parts on a regular basis–round out my favorites and their dynamics with Tress make this a special book.

The magic system takes a lot longer to become clear in this book than it does in some of Sanderson’s other books but, when it does, it feels pretty cool. (It’s not as robust as the magic in Roshar, Nalthis, or, my personal favorite, Scadrial–where people can burn metals and be embedded with them—but still pretty intriguing.) The magical elements in Lumar are in the form of the 12 different spores that fill their “seas.” Each spore does something different when exposed to water, so it makes this magic system feel very much like an alchemical system. (And any amount of water can set them off, even the saline solution of tears or sweat.)  Emerald spores burst into vines such that if one gets in your tear duct it’ll burst your head with a violent Poison Ivy-style death; Crimson spores burst into giant spiked balls that can tear holes in boats; and Obsidian spores can form into an oily, shape-shifting, magical spy that lets you see into other places in exchange for almost all of your water.

Audience Fit

This is a beautifully dark and romantic tale that never becomes sacharine and always allows the heroine to have her own volition and inspiration. While I think the book might technically be considered YA due to the age of the heroine, it never feels like it, as there are real stakes, real death, and real bloodshed. I definitely believe it will warm the cockles of most of our readers hearts if they give it a shot. 

Closing Thoughts

In my mind, Tress of the Emerald Sea is what happens when Brandon Sanderson takes shrooms after watching Rattatouille and Moana and then writes a love letter to his wife. In any other situation, that could be a condescending statement but, in the case of of this book, it’s an endearing endorsement. (Many thanks to Sanderson’s wife who, after he wrote the book for her, encouraged him to share it with the rest of us—otherwise, it would never have seen the light of day.)

And as one of the most direct books Sanderson has ever penned, maybe we’ll finally see a Sanderson work be optioned for the big screen with Tress of the Emerald Sea. (All of his other series, of course, deserve and, honestly, REQUIRE the HBO series treatment, of course.)

If you weren’t able to get this book through the Kickstarter event, don’t worry.  You can purchase it on Amazon or directly from Dragonsteel Entertainment.  (The premium hardcover version is absolutely gorgeous and, as with most of Sanderson’s books, will probably boast an ornate leather-bound option in the future.  The epub and audio versions are really nice, as well.)


Story: 5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Dynamics: 4 Moons (out of 5.0)
Audience Fit: 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)


Score: Four point five moons


Credits: Images by Howard Lyon.  Copyright © 2023, Dragonsteel Entertainment.

Author: JT Hanke

J.T. Hanke is the founder and current editor-in-chief of DarkestGoth Magazine. Founded in 2012, DGM took a break from publishing at the height of the pandemic so that all the staff could work through their own issues, but was able to return in January of 2023.

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