Fiction Reviews

Tress of the Emerald Sea

(2023) Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz, £22, hrdbk, xi + 369pp, ISBN 978-1-399-61337-8


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?

What do you do when you are a prolific, best-selling writer and a pandemic comes along? Why, you write, of course, and in the case of Brandon Sanderson, you write four ďsecretĒ books which were funded by Kickstarter and for the funders they received the books in various formats Ė hardback, e-books, audiobooks Ė check out tíinternet for examples of the great illustrations from Howard Lyon for the fancy editions of Tress of the Emerald Sea. Meanwhile Gollancz are publishing the titles for the public. Here Tress of the Emerald Sea is the first of the four books to appear, and what a cracker it is.

At first glance this might seem to be a mash-up of fairy tale and romantic quest novel, but itís Sandersonís invention and sheer story-telling Bravada that lifts it head and shoulders above those genres. As a starting point, Tress lives on an island surrounded by the Emerald Sea, but this is no ordinary island on an ordinary planet and this is no ordinary sea. It is a planet orbited by twelve moons and the seas are not made of water, but made up of spores cast off by creatures called aethers who live on these moons.

It is fortunate that there is no water in the oceans as these spores turn deadly when they come in contact with any sort of liquid which includes blood, sweat and tears, and if that wasnít bad enough then there are other seas like the Scarlet Sea and the Midnight Sea with which to contend. But it is not just the oceans that Tress will have to vie if she is going to follow the twisting path of true love when the Duke takes his son, Charlie, away to marry someone of higher status than Tress. But never underestimate the power, determination and invention of true love, even if Charlieís indifference in the ladies of the Court results in him being banished to fight against the sorceress of the Midnight Sea.

For Charlie, things can only go downhill from there. He is captured by the Sorceress and held to ransom, a ransom his father is in no hurry to pay so if Charlie is going to be rescued, Tress will be the one who has to do it.

One of the major strengths is the novel's narration, and given that it is set in the Sandersonís 'Cosmere', then readers familiar with that universe will recognise a familiar narrator, i.e. Hoid. He is a slippery character who loves to tell stories, and gives the reader a first-person omniscient point of view, except when heís inside Tressí head and we are getting her thoughts and feelings. Confused? Well, it does actually work, and Iíve always been a sucker for stories within stories and Hoid makes an entertaining, funny and wise storyteller, with a smattering of sarcasm added into the mix.

Hoid aside, Tress is a wonderfully, rounded character, matched by Sandersonís world-building, through which a great supporting cast sails in a variety of adventurous and precarious situations. Also, for a reluctant reader like me, a tale told in six parts over 64 chapters plus an epilogue is exactly my sort of fast-moving book, and you donít have to be familiar with the Cosmere to enjoy this, although there is the odd reference to events from other books in that universe, but if you arenít familiar with Sandersonís work this might be the perfect place to start, and if you are a Sanderson fan, Iím sure you have already dived in, just donít inhale those spores!  Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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