Just the right amount of terror to keep it interesting, and characters that ring true.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson is the first book in a new YA gearpunk trilogy which is all about drawing the best chalk monsters and using them to battle against other chalk monsters that have either been drawn by other people or that have come into being naturally. I really enjoyed this book, as I do with every Sanderson book, but I don't think this book will have the same universal appeal to fantasy readers as the rest of his bibliography.
The reason for this, surprisingly, is the magic system. Every Sanderson magic system is full of depth and complexity, and it often cited as the reason why we love his books so much, but when it comes to Rithmatism, Sanderson goes to great lengths to make sure we understand the smallest and most intricate parts. In every other Sanderson novel the detail can effectively be hidden or exposed by an expert when required. In the Rithmatist, we get a crash course in Rithmatic geometry, and its so openly complex that there are diagrams at the end of each chapter to try and illustrate exactly what is going on. It’s not hard to follow, but it feels like you have to be concentrating the entire time you are reading, as if you are doing school work or homework, and I expect this would be troublesome to those who read for relaxation.
That said, the rest of the book is fantastic and highly enjoyable. Joel and Melody are great characters. The alternate Earth and alternate U.S. was well put together, and the overall plot from start to finish was definitely engaging for me. I can't wait for the next one.
Ryan Lawler, 8/10
It has been a slow start to the year for my reviewing, due to a lack of new releases and a personal decision to take some time off to enjoy reading non-reviewable books. However, the time has come to get back into the swing of things, and it has started with ‘The Rithmatist’ by Brandon Sanderson.
Let’s just say, it’s a great way to get back into it.
We’ve sung Sanderson’s praises for a while now, thanks to the fantastic stories he has penned in his ‘Mistborn’ series of books, not to mention the first book in his new epic fantasy series, ‘The Way of Kings’. But while Sanderson has made a name for himself in the adult fantasy genre, he’s also penned more than enough for the younger audience as well.
The Rithmatist is the latest for that audience, but let’s not kid ourselves, readers of any age are going to love this book.
Set on an alternative Earth over a century ago, young Joel – the chalkmaker’s son – is the only student at Armedius Academy who isn’t from a wealthy or influential family. His mother is one of the cleaners, and his father was the chalkmaker. Chalk, you might ask? Chalk for the rithmatists who can bring chalk drawings to life.
But something is afoot, as children from the school start disappearing.
The book is definitely written for a younger audience, a fact which is obvious by the way in which I was able to plough through the book in under six hours. The structure and care given to sentences is also less refined as you will find in some of Sanderson’s adult fiction; careless repetition pulling you out of the story for small moments.
That being said, however, cannot diminish from yet another stellar magic system set in a world that is inherently intriguing. North America appears to be a series of archipelagos, the natives long since driven south into the Aztec Empire, while a hard-to-identify Asian nation now rules all of the European and Asian continents. There’s definitely some steampunk going on as well, with mechanical lamps and horses (yes, that’s right, mechanical horses) in a world just beginning to allow women more freedom in the work place.
The characters are fantastic, and make me want to go write characters just like them. I find this to be a very attractive and worthwhile quality in a book: if I want to emulate what I am reading, then there is something of value there. Joel is smart, brilliant, but still a teenage boy with an unthinking mind, a mild attraction to the opposite sex, and a naïve sense of his own knowledge. His sidekick, Melody, is adorable and hysterical all at once – but some of Sanderson’s wittiest and most clever dialogue is put in her mouth (“Is that a walking carrot?”). What starts out as an old decrepit professor grows as we get to know him better, and the bad guys are not all that they seem to be.
Needless to say, Sanderson has got an almost masterful grasp of the writing craft. The story is not only engaging, but mesmerising, pulling you in and keeping you reading far too close to the sun’s appearance. The characters are both relatable, fantastical, and brilliant, and the magic system is unparalleled – again.
If you are looking to entice a young reader into a good book, then this is for you, with just the right amount of terror to keep it interesting, and characters that ring true. If you want a good book to read over the weekend, then the same applies again. Sanderson might have written this for a younger audience, but he hasn’t excluded their parents.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
2 positive reader review(s) for The Rithmatist
Ariel from French
It was so good that I can't even tell how much I wanna next book. I personally liked Melody and Joel the most. But I really wanted Jeol be a Rithmatist.
Shehzad from Canada
Gripping book, with a number of twists and turns. What initially feels like a familiar narrative surprises you by being very different in the end. Some of the scenes truly evoke terror, which is itself an achievement since these are chalklings we are talking about, basically 2-D chalk drawings. I look forward to the next book!
Brandon from South Africa
8.5/10 from 4 reviews