Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea

Series: The Cosmere

Series: Year of Sanderson: #1

Take one part Princess Bride (a modern fairly tale for a grown up audience), one part Hoid as the narrator (even more Wit-like than in Stormlight), and add in weird world–Sanderson style. It’s funny. It’s touching. And it’s a delight to read.

Voilá. Tress of the Emerald Sea.

It’s a really good book.

Notes as I read. Spoilers.

There is so much delightful wordsmithing in this book.

“You are a special case,” Charlie said. “You are…well, this is kind of silly…but you’re like a pair of gloves, Tress.”
“I am?” she said, choking up.
“Yes. Don’t be offended. I mean, when I have to practice the sword, I wear these gloves and—”
“I understand,” she whispered.”


“The girl had been given the unfortunate name of Glorf upon her birth (don’t judge; it was a family name), but her wild hair earned her the name everyone knew her by: Tress. That moniker was, in Tress’s estimation, her most interesting feature”

Glorf… of the Emerald Sea?

“She’d brought the soldiers pies, naturally. As they ate, she considered showing the two men her new cup. It was made completely of tin, stamped with letters in a language that ran top to bottom instead of left to right. But no, she didn’t want to bother them”

Being Cosmere, it makes me wonder about the tin. And the script.

“Instead she said, “Huuhhh. Hands are warm.” She followed it with a laugh that she choked on halfway through, exactly mimicking—by pure chance—the call of an elephant seal. It might be said that Tress had a way with words. In that her words tended to get in her way.”

And that’s hilarious.

“Tress searched for the perfect thing to say. There were any number of lines that would have capitalized on that moment. She could have said, “Charlie, could you hold this for me while I walk around the grounds?” then offered her hand back to him”

That’s adorable.

“Still, it was an enormous relief when the first cup arrived. It was delivered by Hoid the cabin boy. (Yes, that’s me. What tipped you off? Was it perhaps the name?) A beautiful porcelain cup, without even a single chip in it.”


“Well, I right think it’s because his father forced him to,” Flik said. “The Sorceress isn’t married. And the king has long wanted to try to make her less of a threat. So…”
“The king sent Charlie to try to marry the Sorceress?”

That’s a lot of emPHASis on weird syLLABles.

“Once she’d finished, Lem asked for seconds. It was a two-pie type of predicament. Ulba only finished half of her meal, sitting back and leaving the rest untouched. It was also a half-pie type of predicament.
Tress’s father ate his second pie with deliberate care, digging down from the top, then eating outward, saving the crust for the end. Finally, he crunched through that. Then he stared at the plate for a long, uncomfortable moment.
Was it…perhaps…a three-pie predicament?”

He has a delightful way with words sometimes.

“Both listened quietly as she spoke. This was, in part, because she’d baked them quail-egg pies. It’s more difficult to object to your daughter’s temporary insanity when your mouth is full”

An excellent excuse.

“Lem nodded. “It is. But a terrible idea executed brilliantly has to be better than a brilliant idea executed terribly. I mean, look at pelicans.”

Pelicans. Just look at them.

Wait. Are they the brilliant idea or the terrible one?

“Tress wiped her eyes once more. “Can we maybe backtrack on this conversation? It looks like we missed the main roadway. I don’t mean to be rude, but you are a rat.”
“Seems self-evident.”
“But you’re talking.”
“Again, self-evident.”
“Yes, but…but how?”
“With my mouth,” he said. “Also, reference my previous answer”

I mean… obviously right?

“A treelike burst of vines exploded into existence inches away from Tress. More twisted than a librarian’s love life (trust me, they’re a strange bunch), it writhed with overlapping tendrils. It reminded Tress of her hair most mornings, before she got out her brush”

That’s a double whammy.

“I’m not entirely certain,” Tress whispered. “I’ve met him before though. He’s nice. If…weird.” “People who collect stamps are weird, Tress. That man is a few eggs short of a dozen—and he doesn’t realize the other ten he collected are actually rocks.”

It’s not that different from Wit, but so far I don’t like it. It felt more like an act then. I’m expecting it’s an act here as well, but it doesn’t fit.

“Empathy is an emotional loss leader. It pays for itself eventually.”

Is that implying a positive or negative?

“This didn’t seem to be a notably rough lot—it was a mixed crew, with a variety of ethnicities and nearly as many women as men. That wasn’t uncommon in the spore seas. You took whoever was willing. Sexism interfered with profits.”

It’s interesting that’s not as common in our world.

“You’d be surprised how common the name is across worlds. Oh, some spell it “Dug” or “Duhg,” but it’s always around. Regardless of local linguistics, parents eventually start naming their kids Doug. I once spent ten years on a planet where the only sapient life was a group of pancakelike beings that expressed themselves through flatulence. And I kid you not—one was named Doug. Though admittedly it had a very distinctive smell attached when the word was “spoken.”

Weird interlude.

“If you wish to become a storyteller, here is a hint: sell your labor, but not your mind. Give me ten hours a day scrubbing a deck, and oh the stories I could imagine. Give me ten hours adding sums, and all you’ll have me imagining at the end is a warm bed and a thought-free evening.”

Sort of what Sanderson did with his night hotel job.

“Why don’t the cannons explode?” “They do. That’s what makes the cannonballs shoot out.”

Sort of like flying being falling but missing the ground. Technically true. The best kind of true.

“Dr. Ulaam”

A ‘divine being’ with a name like that? And a surgeon? Totally a Kandra.

“Technically, yes,” Ulaam said. “But I haven’t the faintest idea how Hoid did it—I found him like this after I arrived on the planet in response to his letter.”
“On the…planet?” she asked. “Like, you’re from the stars?” She’d heard stories of visitors from the stars, but had thought them fancies. Even if there did seem to be more and more of them these days, talked of among sailors.”

I enjoy how blatant this is.

“Tress looked toward Crow. And then, Tress took the singular step that separated her from people in most stories. The act, it might be said, that defined her as a hero. She did something so incredible, I can barely express its majesty.
I should consider this more, Tress thought to herself, and not jump to conclusions.”

So brave!

“Ah, Fort wrote. So you’re searching the seas, like Salay. Hoping that at each new port, you’ll at last find the sock that… He deleted that part. Sorry. Board isn’t always good at predicting. You’re hoping to find that PERSON you’ve lost”

Uh huh. Sure.

“Do you know how many protracted adventures might have been shortened if the heroine had stopped to wonder, “You know, maybe I should look extra carefully to see if the thing I’m searching for has been with me the entire time”?”

That’s not the case here… is it?

“Regardless, your moons are home to a group of voracious entities known as aethers. Though the true aethers on other worlds have a symbiosis with people, the ones on your moons have become insatiable, aggressive, and fecund.”

Aethers tend to symbiosis while the ones here are more feral. We haven’t seen much of them yet, since Aether of Night is non canon now. But IIUC they predate the shattering and are not fueled by a Shard. Which I suppose makes the Iron/Steel thing more interesting.

Also; fecund. :D

“That was a trick question,” Ulaam said. “The true monster is the one in that drawer next to you. I gave it seven different faces.”

So Kandra.

“Once inside, he inspected her closely. “Yes…I believe you’re still alive.”
“I mean, I’m talking to you. And walking around.”
“That’s not as concrete a set of evidences as you might assume,” he said. “But what was it you wanted to ask me?”

Such a Kandra response.

“The captain laughed. “Protect the crew? By persuading them to sail the Crimson? Child, I worried that killing Weev would deprive me of my favorite source of amusement, but you have well and truly taken his place!”

He’s not wrong.

“(Yes, for those of you who care about things like weather patterns, this growth eventually stopped—and a given vine would eventually exhaust all of its growth potential. Otherwise, people couldn’t very well eat them. Getting the vines to the end of their growth potential was essential for turning them into emergency food.)”

A food that makes more of itself while you digest it.

“Pardon if this is intruding,” Tress said, “but why are you so…um…”
“Weird about guns?” Ann asked.
Tress blushed, then nodded.
“Why are you so weird about blushing when you ask questions?” Ann asked.
“I don’t want to impose on people.”
“You should more often,” Ann said. “How else are you going to get what you want?”
“Well…I mean, others shouldn’t have to think about what I want. It…” She took a deep breath. “Will you tell me, Ann, why you are so weird around guns?”

She’s got a point.

“Farm girl,” she said. “Raised chickens. It was a great life. You know, chickens are really intelligent and make great pets.”
“Yeah. It’s a bloody shame they’re so delicious. Any other guesses about me?”


“It should be noted that Tress would have made an excellent philosopher. In fact, she had already determined that philosophy wasn’t as valuable as she’d assumed—something that takes most great philosophers at least three decades to realize.”

Oh Hoid.

“Fear of something like the aethers? Well, it’s as natural as nipples, but nearly as vestigial as the male variety. And when one abandons certain fears and assumptions, an entire world opens up.”

That’s a wonderful phrase.

About as quotable as “Journey before Destination” methinks.

“Memory is often our only connection to who we used to be. Memories are fossils, the bones left by dead versions of ourselves. More potently, our minds are a hungry audience, craving only the peaks and valleys of experience. The bland erodes, leaving behind the distinctive bits to be remembered again and again.
Painful or passionate, surreal or sublime, we cherish those little rocks of peak experience, polishing them with the ever-smoothing touch of recycled proxy living. In so doing—like pagans praying to a sculpted mud figure—we make of our memories the gods which judge our current lives”

That’s philosophy.

“I’ll leave off crass comparisons to pincushions and just say this: I’ve never seen a man bleed out so quickly. But I’ve also never seen a man with so many places for the blood to escape.”

Another reason it’s the Crimson Sea.

“In that moment, the last vestiges of Tress’s spore fear died away. She’d made a mistake, and she would be careful in future experiments. But today, her mistake had merely cost her a little dignity—traded away for the pleasure of knowing what it felt like to be a grape trellis.”

As is the everlasting dream.

“Tress barely had time to note that she’d apparently spilled a couple midnight spores on the desk, a sloppy move on her part. She heaved the roseite “cannonball” off the desk, then dashed out into the hallway.”

Bet something comes off that.

“A quick piece of advice, Laggart,” Crow said. “If you suspect mutiny, always tell people the trip will end a few days after it actually will. Human nature compels cowards to wait until the last possible moment before they try anything.”


“The captain probably should have gagged me,” Tress said. “Take note, Ann. If you ever go to make an important deal, make certain your payment can’t speak for itself.” You’d be surprised how often that advice has been relevant during my travels”

I wonder how many of those times Hoid is the one who should have been gagged.

“In the land where everyone screams, everyone is also slightly deaf.”


“For your own good, you see.”
Ah, those words.
I’ve heard those words. I’ve said those words. The words that proclaim, in bald-faced arrogance, “I don’t trust you to make your own decisions.” The words we pretend will soften the blow, yet instead layer condescension on top of already existent pain. Like dirt on a corpse.
Oh yes. I’ve said those words. I said them with sixteen other people, in fact.”


“I am supposed to remain neutral, you see,” he said, “in the actions of certain individuals such as the Sorceress. But there is someone who never follows those rules. He’s on this ship. And he has a pair of bright red sequined briefs.”

I hadn’t really considered that the Sorceress might not be a local…

“To this day, I can’t completely say if Midnight Essence is alive or not. The Luhel bond is an odd one, to be certain. For the context of the story though, pretend that the thing slinking along outside her boat was functionally self-aware. At the very least, it had been given a specific set of commands that approximated life.”

That’s a question. Same for Awakened things. In either case, are they alive? Aware?

“And what,” the Sorceress said, “do you think I did with him?”
“You turned him into a rat,” Tress said.
Ha! Finally”

Ha! “Ha! Finally.” Finally.

“The woman herself sat at her desk near the bookshelves, holding a fluffy white cat and idly doing something on her laptop. Or, I mean, her “magical seeing board” that let her watch events outside, as well as occasionally play a mystical card game to pass the time.”

“Magical seeing board”. Thought that the other one was probably a tablet. :D

“You think,” the Sorceress asked, “that with all the advanced technology at my disposal, I’d be interested in your spore gun? A type of weapon that is already being manufactured in several seas on this very planet, which simply hasn’t made its way to your ocean yet?”

The idea of how different far away oceans could be on this world are interesting. I guess it’s like early gunpowder in China a thousand years before Europe?

“The desk rolled to the side at an offhand whim of the Sorceress. She now stood in the dead center of the room. The fake Charlie had walked up to the doorway, and the Lightweaving had fallen away, revealing a creature that only resembled a human—reptilian with golden eyes and a toothy grin.”

Who or what is that?

“Captain,” Ann said, “we’re going to save you. Because you deserve it. You remember, you once told me somethin’ that made me see the world in an entirely new way.”
“And that was?” Tress asked.
“‘Here, try on these spectacles.’”

Took me a moment. I love it.

“When it faded, I stood between Tress and the Sorceress—with the key officers of the Crow’s Song behind me and a little rat on my shoulder—my hands pressed forward, having created an Invested shield of light to shelter Tress. It was constructed of Aons. Which I could now draw. The mechanics might bore you. The results, though, were spectacular.”

Magic! So Hoid can do Elantris magic as well? Here? There’s something missing there I think.

“The curse had said he needed to bring the person he loved most to the Sorceress’s home, to be cursed, in exchange for his freedom. My modifications allowed him instead to bring the person he loved to her home, to be versed, in exchange for his freedom. A good, sensible, non-slant rhyme.”

Curse snoot.