Welcome to Taldain, the Cosmere’s sandy desert planet! I’ve long basked in Brandon Sanderson’s web of interconnected fantasy worlds, saving the graphic novel adaptation for last. But rest assured, this story still has value even if you aren’t already immersed in the Cosmere. If you are, there’s a lot to love. Not for lack of desire, of course, but mainly because I lent all three White Sand volumes to a friend, who recently returned them! I started White Sand Volume 1 at about 2 pm on a Sunday and finished almost exactly two hours later. As is his way, Sanderson roped me in with an intriguing setting, relatable characters, and one helluva magic system, so I read the entire series in three days. Adapter Rik Hoskin and the teams of artists on the project deserve heaps of praise for bringing Sanderson’s vision to life in the form of this graphic novel gem.
White Sand opens with protagonist Kenton convincing his father, the Lord Mastrell of Taldain’s Sand Masters, to let him participate in the trial to become a Sand Master himself. Kenton can only control one ribbon of sand, however, a paltry performance compared to the many masters who can control ribbons in the double digits. Ever defiant, Kenton undergoes the trial and succeeds beyond anyone’s expectations. But as the sash-giving ceremony comes and Kenton awaits his title, the magic-hating Kerztians attack, eliminating a huge swathe of Sand Masters and crippling their organization. Having narrowly survived the attack, Kenton encounters Khrissala, a darksider, and her comrades. Khrissala and Kenton strike a tenuous alliance and work together briefly to discover what drove the Kerztians to attack, all while each keeps secrets from the other. Soon after, Kenton convinces the Taisha, Dayside’s ruling council, to give him two weeks to convince political and social leaders to keep the Diem intact, even though many of them believe Sand Mastery to be obsolete or a siphon on the planet’s resources. Kerztians, meanwhile, send assassins to kill Kenton, further muddling his plans. Plus, he’s got Drile, a more powerful Sand Master, jostling for a leadership position in the Diem and undermining Kenton whenever he can.
White Sand has all the trappings of a great Sanderson story. There’s political intrigue, dynamic characters, and a well-defined magic system. The graphic novel format suits the story well, giving action sequences great flair and bringing Sand Mastery to vivid and vibrant life on the page.
Pick up White Sand and be ready for a deluge of information doled out through exposition, art, and dialogue. This is a Sanderson story, after all, but we don’t have the luxury of 500-700 pages. White Sand has to teach readers a lot in very little space, and for my money, it succeeds. Sand Mastery stands out as one of Sanderson’s more vibrantly visual magic systems, and it functions as you likely imagine it does. Think sandbending from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but with more precise control of the sand. Sanderson, Hoskin, and Gopez portray Sand Mastery to dazzling effect, and Kenton is a prime conduit for the reader’s understanding of the magic. Since he’s only able to summon and control a single sand ribbon, he can explain in detail how the system works. Pair this with his task in the story’s opening pages—retrieve five gems from a harrowing obstacle course—and you have what amounts to a Sand Mastery 101 class within the first 20% of the graphic novel.
All this is to say, Sand Mastery is cool as hell. It’s everything I expect from a Sanderson magic system, and it’s easy to see why, when he couldn’t find the right time to publish White Sand as a novel, he chose this story for the graphic novel format. Everything clicks into place perfectly.
Enough about the magic system, though. Let’s move on to the story. There’s an intangible oeuvre to White Sand, and it became more apparent as I thought about other graphic novel stories. I love the format, and I think graphic novels have given us some amazing sci-fi and fantasy tales (Watchmen, Descender, Fables, and Sandman, to name a few). But White Sand feels different, and I think it’s because Sanderson clearly had a story in mind from the get-go. This isn’t a fly by the seat of your pants story in which the author lays the groundwork and hopes for the best as he builds a narrative to some unknown conclusion in the distant future. Of course, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have long been kings of this realm, but many graphic novel stories fall short in this area.
Instead, White Sand feels like a tightly plotted, deliberate tale in a way many stories of the medium do not. For that reason, I couldn’t get enough. As I write this, I’m already halfway through White Sand Volume Two and planning to finish the entire arc within a few days of starting it. That said, there are some shortcuts taken here that wouldn’t be necessary in a long-form novel. This is most evident in character development, specifically in the cast’s relationships. Some nuance gets lost in the format, requiring characters to despise each other outright or build trust in a matter of sentences, where other Sanderson stories would give these things time to breathe. If you’re content with taking these shortcuts and suspending your disbelief a bit, there’s a lot of fun to be had in White Sand.
Another reason I’m enamored with White Sand: the characters. Namely, Kenton and Khriss. They have indelible chemistry, and their back and forth is top notch. Neither fully trusts the other, but White Sand makes it obvious they feel some sort of connection. They want to trust each other more than they really do, and each seems to be waiting for the other to give in first. Never is this more apparent than in Volume One’s final panels, in which a major reveal on Kenton’s part stuns Khriss and sparks her to storm off. Volume Two is already dealing with the fallout, and it’s been a joy to witness thus far.
Beyond Kenton and Khriss, many side characters shine through thanks to some exquisite worldbuilding. Among them, Ais stands out. She’s a Trackt, essentially a Dayside police officer, assigned to keep an eye on Kenton. As a rule, Trackts despise Sand Mastery. Watching Ais contend with her beliefs—including an innate hatred of Sand Mastery—as she reckons with her sense of duty to keep Kenton safe is a real treat, and I’m excited to see that internal conflict play out more.
As always, Sanderson has crafted a compelling and real-feeling world in White Sand. The comics-savvy scripting of Rik Hoskin elevates this story in elegant ways, creating a marvelous combination of narrative, worldbuilding, character, and magic. White Sand is a can’t-miss Cosmere stop.
Rating: White Sand – 9.5/10