Edward and Alphonse Elric are traveling around the country in search of the coveted Philosopher’s Stone. Rumors lead them to Xenotime, a mining town that can no longer mine, and who claim to be working on creating a Stone with the help of two young alchemists–the Elric brothers?!
Faced with a town desperate for their gold mining to return, and impostors already claiming their names in town, it seems like Ed and Al will need to uncover more than just the truth of alchemy’s greatest secret if they want to find the Stone in Fullmetal Alchemist – The Land of Sand.
2005 seems like forever ago. Over ten years have passed since this book was released in English by Viz Media, and it would have been right at the height of fan interest for the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise. Written by Makoto Inoue, the series of books boasts illustrations from the mangaka herself, Hiromu Arakawa, and was so well-received that the story in this book was even adapted and included in the original 2003 anime.
For anyone with even a glancing knowledge of Japanese media, Fullmetal Alchemist should be a familiar name. Since the debut of the manga in 2001, Arakawa’s story has persevered within the collective consciousness of otaku across the globe, and has had not only two anime adaptations, but anime films, several video games, countless references in other media from both inside and outside Japan, and even a Netflix-produced live action film since. It’s a series with a plethora of interesting and complicated characters, and lends itself well to larger world building within all of these non-manga adaptations.
In particular with this book, and as previously mentioned, you don’t need to have read it to know the two stories thanks to the creative team of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime. The first (and main) story was adapted in episodes 11 and 12 (The Other Brothers Elric: Part 1 and 2), and the more comedic short story in the latter half of episode 37 (The Flame Alchemist, The Bachelor Lieutenant & The Mystery of Warehouse 13).
That doesn’t mean this book isn’t worth reading though–quite the opposite! It’s a testament to Inoue’s understanding of the characters that they behave and speak just as expected, and are able to merge pretty perfectly with the new characters and setting without missing a beat. The main themes of the book embody those of the manga with a surprising accuracy, and it’s very easy to read.
The best part is that Fullmetal Alchemist lends itself to early side stories. There are years of unexplored adventures from when Ed first received his license (age 12) to when the main manga plot starts (age 15), and The Land of Sand slips seamlessly into this period of time. Amestris is a large country with multitudes of small country towns, and Xenotime is just another.
Previously famous for their mines and the goldware the residents produced, the town is struggling now that it seems that all the gold is gone. The land is arid and sandy thanks to the loss of vegetation from digging out the earth, and residents struggle with both their funds and their health as most wait for the miracle promise of the Philosopher’s Stone. Mugear, a man who made his wealth at the height of the gold rush, is heading the research and experimentation into the Stone. In this process he brought on two promising young alchemists claiming to be the Elric brothers (much to Ed’s chagrin when he gets kicked out of the inn for ‘lying’ about his name).
The imposters, they discover after breaking in, are indeed two brothers–using the Elric name to find funding for their research, and aid the search for their missing father. They have the heavy weight of hope placed on them from the desperate townsfolk and the greedy man who hired them, and it’s obvious the two are slowly crumbling under the expectation and their lies. The Red Water they have been experimenting with is running out, and there’s no way it could help the town in the state it’s in. For Edward and Alphonse it’s another dead end in the search for their bodies, but the small seeds of hope and change in the minds of the town is more important for Xenotime than the stone ever would have been, and they help expose Mugear as the duplicitous and greedy schemer that he is.
The Land of Sand isn’t long or complicated, but it’s a solid story about the dangers of relying on a quick fix or easy solution, rather than putting in hard work to create a better future. The townspeople of Xenotime grew so complacent when times were good and gold was bountiful, that none of them were prepared for the downturn. They ruined things for short-term profits, and are reaping the consequences–something all too reminiscent of real-word issues and events. The new characters in the story, the fake Elrics, are the highlight–playing off of each other and the real Elrics very well. The scenes between both younger brothers in particular were great to read as they commiserated over their worries for their older brothers, and I am personally glad the older anime series gave this mini story its time to shine.
The short single-chapter story at the end is purely comedy, following Colonel Mustang and his team in Eastern Command. Rumors of ghostly cries and a mysterious warehouse 13 are spreading through the lower ranks, and Feury, Havoc, Breda and Falman convince Roy to help them solve the mystery (if only just to stop Feury crying). What unfolds is a hilarious series of misunderstandings the men go through, which culminates with Hawkeye (truly, the only rational one of the group) unknowingly solving everything with the truth. It’s a funny little interlude, and gives a good idea of the dynamic within Mustang’s team.
The Fullmetal Alchemist novels as a whole are fairly easy to recommend for any fan. This book–like the rest–is easy to read and reminiscent of the main story. The book is short, and suitable for younger readers (middle school age) too, which would have been the majority of FMA fans at the time it was published. I think it’s a great intro into light novels as a medium, being easy-to-read and an approachable connection to the popular franchise (without being the source material). The biggest problem is that there’s no ‘new material’ in this book for 2003 anime fans, but I doubt subsequent books will have this problem.
As a part of the larger FMA franchise, The Land of Sand is good for pre-existing and new fans alike. It’s self-contained and can be read without knowledge of the animes or manga, but also gives some depth and world-building for those already familiar.
Gee’s recommendation: Good for fans, or as an introduction to the medium.