When you see an author’s name on the shelf of a book store, that alone is typically a hint as to what you’re in for. Pick up a book by George R.R. Martin and you can expect a mature story with deep characters. Grab a Douglas Adams novel and you can expect bizarre and hilarious worlds. Read anything by Steven King and you can expect a writer from Maine.
Very rarely do authors get truly weird or experimental with their craft. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Write what you know. But it is refreshing to see an established author break away from their usual formulas to do something brand new.
Enter Brandon Sanderson’s latest release: ‘Tress of the Emerald Sea,’ the first of the four secret projects from his recent Kickstarter. Normally, Sanderson’s work is fairly serious and dramatic, with some light-hearted humor sprinkled on top to add levity. His stories are usually fantasy epics with elaborate hard magic systems, relatable characters with down-to-earth emotional issues, and usually end in the same way most RPGs do: killing god.
‘Tress of the Emerald Sea’ is all of that. But instead of a fantasy epic, this one is written partially as a fairy tale and partially as one of Hoid’s bizarre tales. One that leans far harder into the humor than it does the drama.
And I absolutely loved every single page of it!
Tress is a perfectly ordinary and boring girl with an affinity for collecting cups and a budding romance with Charlie, the son of the duke that rules her small island. One day, the duke takes Charlie to sea in order to get him married. When these plans fail, the duke abandons Charlie, giving him to the Sorceress, the most sinister and feared person in all the world. Now it’s up to ordinary and sheltered Tress to save him. But can she survive long enough on the seas of spores to even reach him?
If you love Sanderson’s unique blend of worldbuilding and magic systems that are present in his other books, you’ll love this one! The world presented here is one of the most bizarre and interesting we’ve seen from him yet! And the spores make for a wildly fun – if somewhat grotesque and terrifying – magic system!
But of course, that wouldn’t matter if the characters weren’t likable or interesting. Thankfully, the cast here is an absolute delight! Tress is as simple and plain as you can get, but she’s written in such a way that it becomes delightful and charming; seeing her grow more confident and bold makes for a great arc! The side characters are all simple, but they all add a fun layer of comedy and humanity to the story. Add on some effectively despicable villains and you’ve got a rock solid cast!
Oh, and Hoid is there too. He’s not the main character, but he is a character. And also the narrator. How does he know about everything that happens when he isn’t around for most of it? Answer: it’s Hoid. Just accept it.
Honestly, I really love this twist. Having the whole narrative being told by a character within it, especially a character like Hoid, allows Sanderson to explore whole new avenues that normally aren’t available to him via his usual style. And you can tell he had a blast with it; the whole book has this positive and fun energy that is downright infectious!
Not to mention that it’s downright hilarious. The fact that all of the background characters are just referred to as ‘Dougs’ is still making me smile even as I write this.
Side note: the hardback physical copy is super cool. The cover just feels really nice in your hands and there’s some jaw-dropping artwork scattered throughout the book. Howard Lyon killed it with each illustration. That one is a bit on the pricy side, though, so… purchase with caution.
Be more responsible than I was, yeah?
‘Tress of the Emerald Sea’ is absolutely fantastic. It’s charming, it’s unique, and it’s fun to read from cover to cover! I haven’t enjoyed a fantasy book this much since I read ‘The Hobbit’ for the first time, and that’s my favorite book ever! I’d highly recommend giving this one a read!
Man, that was amazing. And there are still three more coming later in the year! Dude wasn’t kidding when he called this the Year of Sanderson! We aren’t just eating good, we’re feasting!
How this man does it all without dropping like a sack of flower is beyond me…