Our Introduction to The Year of Sanderson: Tress of the Emerald Sea


Sam Meine, Writer

With the start of the new year comes the Year of Sanderson, along with quite the wait while I spend the next 3 weeks reading… Oh, hey I’m done now, time to discuss! The first month of the year’s subscription boxes gave us the first of Brandon Sanderson’s kickstarter books, Tress of the Emerald Sea, has been an overwhelming success in my book. 

You don’t have to simply take my word for it, either. With an average rating of 4.64/5 on Goodreads, Tress has become Sanderson’s best rated stand-alone book. The book has often been compared to the likes of The Princess Bride or Terry Pratchet’s Discworld. You may have even seen our book of discussion today on Youtube channels such as Mark Rober or Daniel Greene.

‘Sipping Salty Tea’ by Howard Lyon

The book follows Tress, a thoughtful window-washer in an isolated island community in the middle of the ocean. She considers herself about as normal and boring as anyone, with her collection of cups to set her apart. Fortunately, Charlie, the definitely-not-the-duke’s-son gardener, happens to be someone who loves her for all of those ordinary and quirky things that she would usually hide from others. However, when he gets sent off the island to marry some distant princess, captured by the Midnight Sorceress before he could arrive — well, it’s not like anyone else would care to rescue him. Tress supposed she was as good as anyone to save Charlie.

A ship being swallowed by the Verdant Spores
‘Death of the Dream’ by Howard Lyon depicts a ship being swallowed by Verdant Spores


As you could guess, Tress is ostensibly, well, hate to say it, a light and fluffy pirate romance full of tropes. No no, wait just a moment! It’s not as bad as it sounds. It relies on the fact that you already know the story of the heroine going on the journey to save their love, the talking animal friend, the relatable pirate crew thinking of mutiny. Instead of relying on these cookie cutter tropes as the backbone of the story, it uses them to accent the cast, putting them in a new medium, surprising the foolish reader who thought they could predict the story before it even started. That, and of course, can’t forget to mention the non-water oceans. One of the main draws of the story is its incredibly unique world of the spore seas, using all of these well-worn, well-used tropes in this new medium where ships ride waves of magic colorful spores that explode in water. Remember those expandable foam animals they would grow in water and your bowels if you ate ‘em? Well imagine that but with, well, 100 foot vines or red crystal spikes that grow from inside you. Fun time!


An Unexpected CompanionSanderson writes in his typically utilitarian but easily comprehensible style in Tress. This is not unexpected, however with his use of our ever mysterious character Hoid, we see the author deviating from his tried and true prose to great effect. Hoid being both the narrator as well as a side character within the story itself leads to many small but great moments which remind you that, yes, you read this story as if by a storyteller. In this case, it just happens to be Hoid and the peanut gallery commenting on various scenes, insulting the protagonists and audience alike. Rambling on and making silly puns, contrasting the occasional philosophical discussion on the characters and the world.

Of course one of the stand out features of Tress and the other Secret Projects are the beautiful full color prints. Illustrated by the wonderful artist Howard Lyon and even with triple color printing, I consider Tress as one of, if not the prettiest book (that is also not $200) made by Sanderson’s team. Sadly, by the time the hardcovers become available to everyone in April, they will lose their full color illustrations. However, we can always buy copies of these “special edition hardcovers” for $55 from the authors publishing company: Dragonsteel.

‘Entering the Crimson’ by Howard Lyon, making use of duel color printing in one of the 2 page illustrations.

In all, I am astounded by Tress of the Emerald Sea. The world? Intriguing and unique beyond anything I have seen before. Its characters simple, yet full of depth in ways I would have never expected from their presumably predictable nature. With my lackluster feelings with Sanderson’s previous book The Lost Metal; Tress blew my expectations out of the water- er, spores. Considering the next 2 entries of the Cosmere Secret Projects will similarly include our ever loved and despised narrator Hoid, you can expect me to count down the minutes until I can get my hands on them. Along with an update, maybe a couple months late, when I do.


Sanderson’s four Secret Projects revealed with his Kickstarter.

Sources: (well not that formal but here are a couple things that I referenced)