Series: Rithmatist #1
Published by Tor Teen on May 14th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson's New York Times bestselling epic teen adventure is now available in paperback.
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.
A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013
I think I should start every Sanderson review with: Brandon Sanderson does it again!
There is a reason this guy is one of my favourite authors, he cannot disappoint.
This book is all about expectations. It’s Sanderson’s first try at YA and he did a great job making fantasy more accessible to a younger audience. For those who are used to Sanderson’s other adult works however, this may be a disappointment. The Rithmatist is a lot shorter than his other novels, with only 370 pages, large font and numerous illustrations (as opposed to his 600+ pages works). There is less worldbuilding, less description and the novel is not as deep and philosophical as his adult fantasies. Having said that though, I still loved this book. It’s fast-paced, very engaging and just so much fun.
The worldbuilding, though it takes up less space, is cleverly done and the magic system is as awesome and creative as always. I honestly don’t know how Sanderson manages to come up with all those imaginative ideas again and again.
The story follows Joel who is studying at Armedius Academy, an elite school that teaches both rich and influential “ordinary” students as well as Rithmatists. Rithmatists are people who are able to perform the art of Rithmatics, the ability to infuse life into chalk drawings. They are chosen each year by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony and only one in a thousand receive the gift. Joel’s biggest dream is to be a Rithmatist but he wasn’t chosen so there is no way he can become one. Instead, Joel spends his time trying to sneak into Rithmatic lectures and practices chalk drawing as much as he possibly can, simply because he is fascinated by it.
But then students start disappearing from their rooms at night and as he is assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crime, Joel suddenly finds himself entangled in the mess.
Besides the cool magic system, my favourite thing about this novel was Joel. Not Joel as a character but rather what he represents. One of my least favorite tropes is that of the “chosen one” and Joel isn’t chosen. Things are difficult for him; he has to fight for what he wants. I found myself empathizing with him so much because of this, seeing him struggle, worshipping Rithmatists, being obsessed with a power he does not possess. I’ve been waiting for a fantasy to do this.
I also really liked Joel though. He is certainly flawed, as all of Sanderson’s characters are, but I still found him to be lovable. He starts off as a bit of a know-it-all and is quite smug about his own intelligence but goes through considerable character development and I was totally rooting for him all the way.
To my surprise, I also really liked Melody. She is funny, witty and a loyal friend. I really enjoyed the dynamics that developed between her and Joel and liked the fact that Sanderson didn’t make their relationship into a romance (at least not yet).
The mystery surrounding the world was interesting and well executed. This first installment gave me enough answers to be satisfied while still leaving open many questions for further books.
There were also numerous illustrations in the novel that really helped me visualize and understand the magic system better.
This book does feel more like Middle Grade than YA. But as long as you know that going into it, it should not be a problem. Some of the things that happened didn’t fully convince me (a 16-year-old discovering things the police and professors do not?) but it didn’t really bother me too much.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Rithmatist and recommend it to those to whom the premise sounds interesting.