Tress of the Emerald Sea Summary, Characters and Themes

Tress of the Emerald Sea is a standalone fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson, set in the Cosmere universe. It is the first book released as part of Sanderson’s “Secret Projects” Kickstarter campaign.

The story follows Tress, a young woman who lives a simple life on a small island. When her friend Charlie’s father takes him on a voyage to find a bride and disaster strikes, Tress must leave her home and journey across the dangerous Midnight Sea to seek help from the Sorceress.


Tress, content with her simple life on the Rock, finds joy in collecting cups brought by sailors. Her friendship with Charlie, the duke’s son masquerading as a gardener, adds excitement. When Charlie’s father takes him to find a princess, Tress’s life takes a turn.

Charlie’s letters, each accompanied by a cup, abruptly stop. Upon the duke’s return, Charlie is missing, replaced by an adopted heir. Tress discovers the truth: Charlie was sent to the Sorceress for defying his father’s wishes.

Determined to save him, Tress embarks on an illegal journey, aided by her parents and friends. She boards a smuggler’s ship, only to be imprisoned. When a rival ship attacks, she escapes with Huck, a talking rat, and finds herself aboard the Crow’s Song, a pirate vessel.

Tress proves her worth by becoming the ship’s sprouter, handling dangerous spores. She uncovers the captain’s plan to trade her to a dragon for a cure and aligns her mission with his, needing to cross the Crimson Sea to reach the Sorceress.

Using her knowledge of spores, Tress invents a flare gun to capture the captain. However, the plan goes awry, and she ends up as a hostage before the dragon. In a surprising twist, Tress offers the captain instead, sparking a debate.

The dragon accepts the captain, granting Tress three boons. She returns to the crew, who vow to help her despite dwindling supplies. Huck, revealed as a cursed Charlie, guides them to the Sorceress’s island.

Confronted by the Sorceress, Tress agrees to exchange cups for Charlie, but senses something amiss. The Crow’s Song arrives, having followed Tress. In a dramatic turn, it’s revealed that Hoid, the cursed cabin boy, is the key to defeating the Sorceress.

With Hoid’s help, the Sorceress is defeated. The king rewards Tress and the crew with a new ship and grants the Rock’s residents freedom. Tress’s family joins her and Charlie on their new vessel, setting sail for further adventures.

Tress of the Emerald Sea Summary



Tress, the protagonist, is a kind and compassionate young woman who initially leads a simple life on the Rock. She is content with collecting cups from sailors and daydreaming about the wider world. 

However, when Charlie is taken by the Sorceress, Tress embarks on a daring journey to rescue him. Throughout the story, Tress demonstrates resourcefulness, courage, and a deep sense of loyalty. 

She learns to embrace her own abilities, becoming a skilled sprouter and inventor. Tress’s growth and transformation highlight the power of determination and the importance of fighting for what one believes in.


Charlie is the son of the Duke and Tress’s love interest. He is initially portrayed as a playful and somewhat mischievous character, pretending to be a gardener to avoid Tress’s judgment. 

Charlie’s love for Tress drives him to defy his father’s wishes, leading to his capture by the Sorceress. He is cursed into the form of a rat, demonstrating his resilience and unwavering affection for Tress. 

Charlie’s transformation into Huck the rat showcases the lengths he is willing to go to protect Tress and ultimately reunite with her.


Hoid is a mysterious and recurring character in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe. In “Tress of the Emerald Sea,” he appears as the cursed cabin boy on the Crow’s Song. 

Hoid serves as the narrator of the story, offering witty commentary and insightful observations. Despite his seemingly insignificant role, Hoid plays a crucial part in Tress’s journey. 

He provides cryptic clues and guidance, ultimately helping Tress overcome the Sorceress. Hoid’s true identity and motivations remain shrouded in mystery, adding to the intrigue of the story.

Captain Crow

Captain Crow is the fearsome leader of the pirate ship Crow’s Song. She is a complex and morally ambiguous character, driven by a desire to be cured of a deadly affliction. 

Crow’s ruthless actions and manipulative tactics make her a formidable antagonist. However, her vulnerability and underlying desperation for a cure add layers to her character, making her more than just a villain. 

Crow’s ultimate fate at the hands of the dragon Xisis highlights the consequences of her choices and the destructive nature of her ambition.


Ulaam is the ship’s doctor on the Crow’s Song. He is a knowledgeable and compassionate individual who becomes a mentor and ally to Tress. 

Ulaam teaches Tress about the different types of spores and their properties, empowering her to become a skilled sprouter. He also offers valuable advice and support throughout Tress’s journey, demonstrating his genuine concern for her well-being. 

Ulaam’s wisdom and guidance play a crucial role in Tress’s growth and success in overcoming the challenges she faces.


The Power of Kindness and Empathy

In a world filled with pirates, smugglers, and sorceresses, it is Tress’s unwavering kindness and empathy that truly shine. 

Her compassion extends beyond her loved ones to include even her enemies. She sees the good in people, even when they are masked by darkness. Tress refuses to give up on the crew of the Crow’s Song, believing that they are not inherently bad but have been manipulated by Captain Crow. 

Her empathy allows her to connect with them, to see their vulnerabilities, and ultimately, to inspire them to choose a better path. Even when faced with the Sorceress, Tress does not resort to violence or vengeance. 

Instead, she offers understanding and forgiveness, ultimately leading to the Sorceress’s defeat. 

Tress’s kindness is not a weakness but a source of strength, demonstrating that even in the face of adversity, compassion can be a powerful force for change.

The Importance of Community and Found Family

Tress begins her journey alone, leaving the familiarity of the Rock to rescue Charlie. However, along the way, she finds a new kind of family aboard the Crow’s Song. 

The crew, initially wary of her, eventually becomes her allies and friends. They support her, protect her, and stand by her side even when facing danger. Tress, in turn, cares for them, using her knowledge and skills to help them. 

This bond of community, forged through shared experiences and mutual respect, becomes Tress’s anchor in the vast and dangerous sea. 

It is this sense of belonging that empowers her to face her challenges with courage and determination. 

Ultimately, it is the combined strength of this found family that enables them to overcome adversity and achieve their goals, highlighting the importance of community and the power of connection.

Embracing the Unknown and Finding Courage

Tress’s journey is a testament to the power of embracing the unknown. She leaves behind the safety and predictability of her life on the Rock to venture into a world she knows little about. 

She faces the dangers of the spore seas, encounters pirates and smugglers, and confronts powerful beings like Xisis and the Sorceress. 

Throughout her ordeal, Tress does not allow fear to paralyze her. Instead, she approaches each challenge with curiosity and a willingness to learn. 

She adapts to new situations, learns new skills, and finds her own strength and resilience. Tress’s courage is not about being fearless but about facing her fears head-on, finding creative solutions, and never giving up hope. 

Her journey is a reminder that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone can lead to personal growth and unexpected discoveries.

The Importance of Self-Belief and Determination

Tress’s determination to rescue Charlie is unwavering. She faces numerous obstacles and setbacks, but she never loses sight of her goal. 

Even when others doubt her abilities or try to dissuade her, Tress remains steadfast in her belief in herself and her mission. 

She trusts her instincts, uses her intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome challenges, and never gives up hope, even in the darkest of times. Tress’s self-belief is a source of inspiration, showing that with determination and perseverance, even seemingly impossible goals can be achieved. 

Her story is a reminder that believing in oneself is the first step towards fulfilling one’s dreams and aspirations.