Written by: Brandon Sanderson
Published by: Tor Teen
Release date: May 14th, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Source: ARC from ALAMW 2013
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. 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 study 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.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s geared toward a younger audience than Brandon Sanderson’s other epic fantasy novels, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment at all. First, the world in The Rithmatist runs on “springworks”. I mean, really: Gorgeous gear-driven gadgets and creepy chalk creatures, what more do you want? Brandon’s characters are all vibrant; the setting, an alternate version of the US, has been built with careful detail; and the chalk-based magic system is complex and (literally) alive. Wonderfully done.
The characters are always some of the best things about Brandon’s books, at least for me, and we definitely have some great ones in The Rithmatist: Joel, Melody, and Professor Fitch are the main three. The story is told from Joel’s perspective, and while he is very likeable and fun, he does have his share of issues. Joel’s journey throughout the book—moving from focusing on himself and being hung up on his non-Rithmatist status, to learning how to play to his strengths and reach out to others—was one of my favorite things about his story.
Melody is a character whom I thought I wouldn’t like at first, but she grew on me thanks to her and Joel’s banter; they have the classic we’re-totally-annoyed-with-each-other-until-we-somehow-become-friends storyline, but it’s well done here.
And then there’s Professor Fitch, who is tutoring the two students, while heading up the investigation of the disappearances at Armedius. Fitch is wonderful; he comes across as fairly meek and subdued, but he’s incredibly intelligent and fiercely loyal—a great mentor for Joel and Melody.
The plot is great. Rithmatist students are disappearing, and Fitch and Joel (and eventually Melody) aid the official investigation. There’s plenty of suspense and mystery; nothing is as obvious as it might seem, and I was thrown for more than a few loops as things were revealed. Brandon keeps you guessing and theorizing over “whodunnit” until the very end.
I was skeptical at first about how chalk drawings could possibly be scary… But Brandon manages to pull it off. At first, the Chalklings are properly mysterious, but they’re also vague enough that I wasn’t terribly bothered by them. After having finished the book, and thanks to everything that happens in the last few chapters, I’m thoroughly converted—these things are creepy and terrifying. But… also pretty fascinating. The new information Brandon deals out at the end will lead into great opportunities for further exploration of Rithmatics and Chalklings in Book 2… (whenever that one comes out…). I can’t wait to learn more about them.
With all the excitement and new info about Rithmatics, the last few chapters are what made the book, for me. Suddenly so many doors are opened up, and it’s clear that there is so much more to things than meets the eye. We’re left with just enough answers for a resolution, but even more questions about what will happen next…
Definitely check this book out if you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson – don’t expect something as weighty as Mistborn, but this is a really fun middle-grade-ish book that sets up what I’m positive will be an amazing series.