Review Secret Project #1: Tress of the Emerald Sea

In March 2022, author Brandon Sanderson announced in quite a theatrical way that he had secretly written five new books. He decided to offer four of those secret projects in a non-traditional way, namely through self-publication that he could hopefully fund through a campaign on Kickstarter. This turned out to be a masterful move, as that campaign became the most successful ever!

Since Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, I really wanted to be a part of this unique project. It was quite costly, so I did hesitate for a brief moment, but eventually signed up for the physical super de luxe editions of these books.

Then, on January 1st, it was time! Then everyone who had supported the campaign, including me, received the first of the four secret projects as an e-book in their e-mail inbox. The physical editions would find their way to their new homes during the month, but through the e-book everyone could simultaneously dive into the new story, which I did immediately on January 1!

I wanted to wait to post my review here until I could also share pictures of the physical book, but unfortunately I still haven’t received it. Due to problems with the printer in America and the numerous snow storms at the end of 2022/beginning of 2023, the shipping is delayed considerably.
Since we are now more than halfway through February and I actually finished this book already in the first week of January, I have decided to share my review of the contents of the book. When the physical book has finally found its way to my hands, I will post a new message here!

In the run-up to the publication of the first book in this project, many things were revealed, such as the actual title and the first few chapters could be read on Brandon Sanderson’s website.
I prefered to remain as ignorant as possible and so I avoided these spoilers, until I found the e-book in my e-mail on January 1st and was able to dive straight into the story.

Brandon Sanderson – Tress of the Emerald Sea (The Cosmere) ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

#1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson expands his Cosmere universe shared by The Stormlight Archive and Mistborn with a new standalone novel for everyone who loved The Princess Bride.

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?

Note from Brandon:
I started writing this in secret, as a novel just for my wife. She urged me to share it with the world—and alongside three other secret novels, with the support of readers worldwide it grew into the biggest Kickstarter campaign of all time. I’m excited to present this first book to you at last: a different type of Brandon Sanderson story, one I wrote when there were no time constraints, no expectations, and no limits on my imagination. Come be part of the magic.

In the middle of the ocean, there was a girl who lived upon a rock.

Oh, but what an absolute gem this was! And I mean this in every possible sense, from content to execution!
First of all, the wonderful care of the e-book makes me even more eager to receive the real book. That cover alone!
This book is already an absolute visual treat digitally. Not only is the book peppered with beautiful full-page illustrations, but the rest of the book is also very beautifully rendered with chapter elements that help tell the story!

this is a tale about people who are both what they seem and not what they seem. Simultaneously. A story of contradictions. In other words, it is a story about human beings.

On to the story. I really don’t understand how Sanderson does it. He writes so much, so fast and still manages to blow me away with each new publication.

His first secret novel tells the tale of Tress, a young lady who is quite happy to spend the rest of her life on her little island, until her friend Charlie gets into trouble on the sea and she embarks on the adventure of her lifetime.

Most people never live, Tress, because they’re afraid of losing the years they have left… years that also will be spent not living. The irony of a cautious existence.

This was such a cool, unique, charming and fun adventure! Completely different from Sanderson’s epic fantasy works, but with all the same characteristic flair for unique magical worlds and magic.

The world in this book is based on such a simple idea that you can’t believe no one has ever thought of it before. It seems so deceptively simple and obvious. The accompanying magic system is also so fantastically worked out and offers so much room for growth. I really hope Sanderson will come up with more stories in this world, because I want to explore the other seas too!

The locals worshipped those twelve moons as gods, which we can all agree is far more ridiculous than whatever it is you worship. However, it’s easy to see where the superstition began, bearing in mind the spores—like colorful sand—that the moons dropped upon the land.

I personally really liked the narrator’s voice. Very jovial with a healthy portion of silliness and humor, that’s a little reminiscent of Adam Douglas who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galacy.
Those who are more familiar with Sanderson’s wider universe of The Cosmere, will also find an extra level of enjoyement in reading from this narrator’s perspective, as he is a pivotal character in his canon. But even if you have never read a Sanderson book before, you can still fully enjoy this story. I would even say that it would be a great starting point to discover this author for the first time.

Sanderson himself says that the seed for this story started with The Princess Bride. I haven’t read this book, nor have I seen this movie, so I can’t really say, but I can definitely see parallels with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. An entertaining adventure story that draws elements from traditional fairytales.

So, to me Tress of the Emerald Sea is another triumph for Sanderson. His pleasure in writing this book is transferred to the reader. The adventure story is cozy and in a way familiar, but in a context so unique and imaginative that it was an absolute joy to read!