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Book Review: Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

     Whenever one does discover a moment of joy, beauty enters the world. Human beings, we can’t create energy; we can only harness it. We can’t create matter; we can only shape it. We can’t even create life; we can only nurture it.

   But we can create light. This is one of the ways. The effervescence of purpose discovered.

Tress of the emerald seaI’ve been excited to read Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson for quite a while. Mostly because it seems like everyone in Utah adores Brandon Sanderson (he is a local, after all) but it’s not a conversation I can really engage in as I am usually reluctant to start very long fantasy series.

But Tress is a stand-alone. It is set in a world with oceans made of spores that fall from the moons. These spores have different colors, depending on the moon, and do different, but always destructive things when water touches them. Tress lives on an island called The Rock, in the middle of The Emerald Sea where the spores are green and turn into enormous, writhing, destructive vines when they meet moisture. She is a window washer and her best friend is a boy named Charlie—who happens to be the son of the island’s ruling nobleman. The duke is not happy when he sees Charlie and Tress growing closer, so he takes Charlie off the island to find a wife, an escapade that does not end well for Charlie. Tress decides it is up to her to rescue him, and her adventures begin.

I enjoyed this one a lot. It’s compared to The Princess Bride, but if Buttercup went and did something instead of just pining for Wesley. It has a similar wry and whimsical tone, but mostly I just think it’s a fantasy with an adventuresome main character. Something fantasy novels do that annoys me is when the main character can just…do everything somehow, and this novel does not (to my relief) do that. Tress starts out as a person who is determined, creative, and inventive, but she has to figure out how to do things without any preternatural skill or strength. Her ultimate lesson is that asking for help isn’t weakness, but just a thing people sometimes do. The kick is that you have to live your life in a way that people want to help you. As this was a mildly painful thing for me to ponder (considering recent experiences of my own), I liked that idea but it wasn’t my favorite take away.

Instead, what I really loved is that Tress learns to wrestle with fear, and just how often a fear-based decision (instead of one made with facts and knowledge) is the wrong one. Circumstances for her to face her fear of the spores (a fear that every person on the planet holds) and in doing so she discovers qualities the spores possess that others don’t know.

So my little piece of wisdom I’ll take from Tress of the Emerald Sea is that reminder. I have been making decisions for the past 18 months based on the fear that there is something wrong with me that I can’t identify. That I haven’t lived my life in the way that would encourage people to want to help me (rather than the rejection I’ve been trying to overcome), the fear that I am a horrible person. But honestly, I don’t have all of the facts or knowledge to make assumptions about what happened, and so am deciding that out of fear instead of wisdom. Real life isn’t a novel, but I’m grateful for the reminder to examine my fears instead of letting them control me, and maybe when I face them I will find something I don’t already know.

Tress of the Emerald Sea is not high literature but it is full of wisdom, humor, courage, and fun. (Yes! I did have fun reading this, which is not something I can always say about the books I read.) There are images that will stick with me (the stone spires that grow in the Crimson Sea during rain; Tress’s walk across the ocean of spores; Tress’s butterfly cup.

I’m glad I read it.  


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