Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

Tress of the Emerald Sea

by Brandon Sanderson

The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when his father takes him on a voyage to find a bride and disaster strikes, Tress must stow away on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Amid the spore oceans where pirates abound, can Tress leave her simple life behind and make her own place sailing a sea where a single drop of water can mean instant death?

Reviewed by ladygrey on

3 of 5 stars


I took notes while reading this and then Apple decided I didn't need them, even though I was connected to wifi several times in the midst of reading so they should have saved just fine. Sometimes technology is dumb.

This book, however, is not. I have a hard time reviewing Sanderson's books because…he's a good writer. He draws you into the world. He is a master at set up and pay off so there's pretty universally a sense of satisfaction at the end of his books. He does these things so well that when I go to read my next book it always pales in comparison.

That level of writing skill is what makes it hard to review his books. Because I don't always love the other things he does in the story. this one rambles with both philosophical and inane commentary. Which I get was a style choice with the narrator he wanted to tell the story through. It still makes the book several thousand words too long, in my opinion. 

I didn't mine that it was predictable, in that it's clearly a retelling of the Snow Queen. I thought it was odd that he acknowledged he was going for a Princess Bride style but didn't acknowledge it's a straight up fairy tale retelling. He even describes the villain as having a heart of ice. Maybe he thought the fairy tale aspect would be off-putting to some of his audience and since they're likely not readers of fairy tales they wouldn't notice what he's doing. But I noticed and that laid out the plot a lot more clearly than any idea of the Princess Bride (which I did wonder if he was going down that road for a while until Tress ends up on a ship with the crew which is when it become utterly clear this was the Snow Queen).

If anything else annoyed me about this book, it doesn't stand out in my memory so perhaps it wasn't that important (though my notes would certainly be helpful right now, Apple). I did like that the world building was unique and, of course, well evoked. 

And I liked the allusions to other books/worlds in the Cosmere. There's a whole series I haven't even touched so I know my experience with his gargantuan world is limited. But there was a line I'm fairly certain where Hoid quotes Kelsier. And there's overt ties to Elantris. Even with my limited knowledge, it was fun to see those connections.

I also really liked the illustrations. I'm not a huge fan of the cover, mostly because silhouette styles aren't my cup of tea. But the interior illustrations are GORGEOUS.

Is this my favorite book of all time? No. Is it even my favorite Sanderson book? Maybe. If I was going to reread anything it would either be this or Elantris. But is it better written than 80% of the books on my tbr? Yeah, probably. That line between skill and enjoyment is sometimes difficult to thread. This is definitely well written. But I only like it ok.

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Reading updates

  • 26 April, 2023: Started reading
  • 27 April, 2023: Finished reading
  • 30 April, 2023: Reviewed