The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist, #1)by Published 01 May 2014
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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
"The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist, #1)" Reviews
So, I've read 14 full-length novels and 2 novellas by Brandon Sanderson, and this is the one that didn't do it for me.
My one glowing positive is that, once again, Sanderson presents his readers with a fascinating magic system. Think Chalk Zone with more violence!
Rithmatists are a chosen elite, trained from a young age & charged with protecting civilization by way of breathing life into mathematically intricate chalk sketches. These sketches rely on the precision & intent of the artist, and I really enjoyed the illustrations in the book that made this system feel that much more real.
Unfortunately, I can't say much for the rest of the book.
Despite the allure of the magic system, I still never found myself putting down roots in this world. It may be because the complexity of the chalk magic didn't mesh well with the simplicity of the other elements in the story.
Joel is a 16-year-old student at a prestigious academy with a student body that has integrated Rithmatists and regular kids. He is passionate about Rithmatic study, though he has no abilities of his own. Melody is 16-year-old Rithmatist with a quirky personality & seems to be a bit of a redheaded stepchild in the Rithmatist community at the school.
I guess I don't mind either of these characters, but something about both of them seems incredibly derivative. I just felt as though I'd met them countless times before in other works. The most noteworthy aspect of their friendship is that it's just that: a friendship. It's nice to see a Young Adult story where two main characters of opposite gender can just exist without a shoehorned kissing scene, but otherwise, I don't see myself thinking about either of them much past the time it takes me to write this review.
Speaking of the genre, something about this book felt very Middle Grade. That's probably not a negative for the general reader, but me? I'm not really a fan of Middle Grade.
Joel & Melody could've just as easily fulfilled their roles if they were 12 or 13. In fact, I think I would've enjoyed the story a bit more if the protagonists had been younger because the plot felt so much like something out of Percy Jackson and the Olympians or The Children of the Red King.
I suppose it was the atmosphere more than anything else. It was like one of the early Harry Potter installments in that the plot wove itself around a mysterious occurrence at a "magical school," which is then solved by children in tandem with a handful of adults who are clearly segregated into "good adults" and "bad adults."
I found myself yawning through most of the book. The story was written with all the skill we can expect from Sanderson, but I did not feel as compelled as I normally do to stay engaged with the developments. Long conversations & mostly annoying banter between the MC's had me feeling utterly bored.
The last 10% of the story finally shows off the excellent magic system in some great action sequences that held my attention pretty well, but as far as the mystery goes I wasn't surprised by the time I reached the conclusion. I'm not saying I guessed what would happen in specific details, but my reaction was a very weak "Oh, yea ok. No more fight scenes?"
What can I say, sometimes you connect with a book & sometimes you don't. I've had excellent luck with Sanderson's other works, but this one just couldn't sweep me off my feet!
[4.5 stars] I hope no one gets tired of hearing me say “I read another Sanderson, and it was amazing!” because I say it a lot.
The Rithmatist, while not as sophisticated as some of Sanderson’s high fantasy (for obvious reasons), is still one of my new favorite works from him. The magic system was particularly fun to read about – Rithmatists who duel one another using chalk drawings (ground wards for defense, animated chalk drawings for offense),and set in a school setting where they learn everything from geometry (for proper ward creation) to complex dueling strategies, to boot! I love when books introduce some sort of competition, especially magic-related. The Rithmatist definitely reminded me of Hermione’s role in Harry Potter – very academically inclined and whenever she was around I felt like I learned a lot about magic. Joel fit that roll for me here – he knew so much about the Rithmatists’ craft that, by the end of the book, I felt like an expert too. The friendships formed in this book were also reminiscent of HP, and I especially love that Joel and Melody’s relationship was organic and atypical – very different from most YA.
The book also had a fun “whodunit” style mystery that did a great job keeping me guessing all the way until the end. If I can’t figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point (or better yet, if I’m certain I know who it is and I’m wrong), the author has done a great job weaving together a good mystery – as was the case here. I felt invested in the story because I was constantly trying out different theories of whodunit. With so many things keeping me glued to the pages, it’s no surprise I devoured it so quickly.
Overall, The Rithmatist had a great mix of good characters, compelling mystery, and magic infusion. It hit an A+ for me on all accounts and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy. This is one of those titles I find easy to recommend because it has appeal for a wide range of readers. Before diving in, I was under the impression The Rithmatist could essentially function as a stand-alone novel – not the case. I need the next one like, yesterday! According to the author’s State of the Sanderson 2016, we should be seeing a sequel "Status: Soooooon."
Other books you might like:
The Waking Fire - Anthony Ryan
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
A Darker Shade of Magic - V.E. Schwab
The Inventor's Secret - Chad Morris
The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau
Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.nikihawkes.com
One of the reasons why fans of Brandon Sanderson (including yours truly) love him so much - when he gets into a writing funk he sidetracks himself by writing something completely different from his main project and it can result in a gem like this book.
MG and YA are not my go-to genre and hence, I'm very selective when it comes to these books. However, I have immense faith in Sanderson as he consistently churns out good, if not amazing, books. I also failed to understand why he had been so regularly critiqued for his characters. Ever since I've read The Way of Kings - one of the most character-driven books in epic fantasy - I've come to appreciate how my engagement with such fictional beings drive my enjoyment of the book. I believe that he had invariably delivered in this aspect simply because everytime I pick up a Sanderson book, I am not able to read anything else.
Firstly, this is non-Cosmere book. The world is set in a gearpunk 'alternative' Earth where North America is made up of islands. Secondly, no review of this author is complete without mention about the magic system and I am beginning to risk sounding like a broken record - how does Sanderson even create such fascinating ones? In the Rithmatist, the foundation of the magic was built on geometry, trigonometry and chalk. Yes, chalk! "How??" you might ask. Well there are illustrations at the start of each chapter to explain the mechanics of different chalk drawings and how precise geometrical/trigonometrical properties influence its relative strength/power. The power of this author's imagination realised in artform.
The storytelling is solid comprising both a pretty dark mystery component and a school/learning setting. In spite of the young age of the main characters, the narrative was not annoyingly juvenile but was instead engaging and mature enough to appeal to older audiences. I really appreciated how Joel, the main protagonist, did not get an easy way out. You'll need to read the book to understand what I mean by this; no standard YA tropes here. To cap it all off, the ending sequence and the revelations were quite magnificent. There was a "Ooooh, I see what you did there" moment, which I can't allude to further as it might be construed as a potential spoiler.
Ever the planner, Sanderson has just completed the research phase of the 2nd book as he intends to expand the worldbuilding from North America to Meso- and South America.
I think I should start every Sanderson review with: Brandon Sanderson does it again!
There is a reason this guy is one of my favorite 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.
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 favorite 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 as a character though. He is certainly flawed, as all of Sanderson’s characters are, but I still found him to be very likable. 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, even though I wasn’t sure I would at the beginning. 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 while reading.
Overall I really enjoyed The Rithmatist and recommend it to those to whom the premise sounds interesting.
After reading a bit of the initial commentary on this book, some people mentioned that maybe there was a little too much focus on the magic system. Being a huge Sanderson fan, my thoughts were along the line of: there's no way, his magic is THE reason I love his novels, there's literally NO way.
As it turns out, there does seem to be a way, although only just a bit.
The magic of The Rithmatist is as creative as ever. I've mentioned this before and I'll say it again, Sanderson's magic really takes on a life of its own in any of his books. I love the characters in any given book, but it's the magic that makes me want to live in the world forever. I want to see the magic used in every possible way and situation. And yet he tends to hold it back a bit. The "lashings" in The Way of Kings is only mentioned on a couple pages and I wanted to see the armor more and more. The whispers and colors in It's always so interesting and creative, I never thought I could ever tire of a Sanderson magic system.
Until The Rithmatist. It's not that it isn't as good as any other magic system Sanderson has created, it's more that it's actually overused for once. As I said above, I normally can't get enough, but here the main protagonist, Joel, is obsessed with Rithmatists. So it's all he can talk about. And it's third person limited on Joel, so it's all we hear about. And he lives at a school, half of which is devoted to Rithmatists. So it's all we hear about.
So besides the fact that I started to cringe every time the word "Rithmatist" was used, the plot is pretty standard and it has the standard YA characters. The mean professor (Snape), the students breaking the rules to save the day (Harry/Hermione/Ron), the uppity magicals versus the non-magicals (muggles), etc.
That is, until all these great mysteries are revealed and hinted at at the very end of the book. I have a feeling the next book will really get things going, but this installment was really just a prelude to set up the magic and the lay of the land with the United Isles archipelago.
Just to reiterate, the magic is excellent. The Rithmatists defend against wild chalklings who are two-dimentional creatures that attack and kill and must be contained at The Tower in Nebrask. Rithmatists use shapes drawn in chalk to both defend and attack by using geometric points of circles that must be drawn with exactitude or they will become weak. It's so well-thought out, it boggles the mind to see all that has gone into this and no wonder it gets mentioned over and over, it takes that long just to understand the different defenses that are used.
Sanderson has a reputation for great magic for a reason and demonstrates yet again why he has earned it. He's also created a vivid world full of technology powered by gears ("gearpunk" as Sanderson mentions in the afterword) and mysteries that abound. The magic is a bit over-explained and the plot is a bit stock in this first installment, but I'm really looking forward for what's to come because what's been hinted at here demands more reading.
3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)