Sanderson is known for his intricate and original magic concepts and that creativity is definitely to be found in White Sand. And certainly the artwork is intricate and full of detail and originality. Yet taken as a whole, this never comes together to create a very good graphic novel. The story is bland, overwordy/dialogue heavy, and the illustrations fail to convey the subtlety of the writing. The plot is confusing and the setting odd and unresolved. Characters are flat and very caricature-like, creating a very disenfranchising read.
Story: Kenton is the son of the master ‘sand wizard’ – and is learning to control the sands on his desert planet. Full of rebellion and idealism rather than sand manipulation talent, he is the disappointment that his father cannot live down. When the Sand Masters are betrayed and slaughtered, he must find a way to save his culture, battling from within and without as he finds his own magic.
I think the problem here is that the art just doesn’t match the story very well. Sanderson’s story appears to be full of nuance and subtlety but the illustrations are very emotive, with characters always appearing to be overreacting (yelling, gesticulating, etc.) or in odd positions for body shots (appearing to be walking in a scene where they should be standing). It was very incongruous and made everyone seem like they were always screaming or angry, regardless of situation. And I found the static pictures of groups of people very strange – with legs crossed and arms extended in very theatrical positions that made no sense for the scene. Combined with a very slavish attention to the idea of ‘white’ in White Sand it meant that nearly 3/4 of the images are pure white – leaching the graphic novel of color and energy. It looked more like white snow than white sand and I felt there really needed to be a hint of yellow in all that white.
The plot/setting was fairly mundane. Parts were over explained to death (many times over, the magic system) and other areas never explained at all (daysider vs darksider, etc.). And other areas made no sense at all – such as the costuming and how no one every remarked or noticed Kenton in his Sand Masters outfit or his Darksider friends in their elaborate costumes despite there being a war at that point. Add in a useless early plot device about a race and a LOT of dialogue/exposition and this can be a chore to read. The art isn’t allowed to tell the story at all and is clearly fully subservient to the story – it makes for poor synergy and a pointless waste of the graphic medium.
I obviously did not enjoy White Sand. Admittedly, I’ve only read one Brandon Sanderson book so I am not ‘invested’ in the author. As a graphic novel, this felt like a missed opportunity that never really came together to create a compelling story. It’s also a really good lesson on how author/illustrator synergy can create a great work of art or completely fail to gel into a compelling read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.