The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – book review

Cover of the hardcover of "The Rithmatist" by Brandon Sanderson.
Cover of the hardcover of “The Rithmatist” by Brandon Sanderson.
I am constantly amazed at the variety and quantity of fantastical worlds that exist in the mind of Brandon Sanderson. The Rithmatist is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series created by that very creative mind, and it continues the tradition set by his other worlds found in Elantris, the Mistborn series, and so on. This is also the first of Sanderson’s worlds to be set in an alternate history and alternate reality version of the United States (called the United Isles).

Joel is mundane. He has no magical abilities of his own, but he is completely and utterly fascinated by the world of the Rithmatists. He reads everything he can find about them and their abilities, and he sneaks into classes which usually don’t allow non-Rithmatists to attend or observe. Luck for him, his mother works at an academy for Rithmatists, and he gets to attend classes at the school at no charge.

However, strange things have been happening, and Rithmatists from the academy have begun disappearing. The police are stumped and even the newly-arrived Federal inspectors are having difficulties piecing things together. Can Joel help figure things out before any more students disappear? And so this journey begins.

Sanderson’s writing in this book has a lighter feel to it than in his books marketed at an older audience, and since I had avoided reading anything about the book and therefore wasn’t expecting a young adult novel, it took several pages to get into the groove, so to speak, of the flow of this story. Once there, I was hooked and enjoyed every page and paragraph of the story.

Joel is a great protagonist and a character with which it is easy to identify. Melody shows significant change as the story progresses. Each of the characters were interesting and each felt like a different person, something which is not always the case in young adult (and even adult) novels. Sanderson did an excellent job showing me, as the reader, the world through the eyes of the characters, and by the end of the book, I was sad to have to leave it and wait for the next book (which is currently projected for release in 2015…good things come to those who wait, I hear).

The magic system in this book (and therefore the series) is based on chalk. Yes, chalk. Rithmatists have the ability to create defensive and offensive geometric patterns in order to battle each other and the chalklings (basically chalk drawings of animals, monsters, and people) they create. Inbetween chapters, Sanderson has provided mini-lessons on how Rithmatics works, via illustrations by Ben McSweeney, These are a fun look into the world of the Rithmatists and serve to help the reader better understand what is discussed by the characters in the book.

One surprising inclusion is found at the end of the book after the novel concludes: Sanderson (and/or Tor Teen, who published the book) made a reading and activity guide which will be invaluable to teachers wanting to use the book in their curriculum, or for those in a reading group who want a starting point for discussion of the book and its world. Would that more young adult books (especially) contained such a useful tool.

The Rithmatist is a great book, and I strongly recommend it to those who enjoy a good, quick read (only 378 pages), and those who enjoy interesting fantasy worlds, whether young adult or not. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Release Date: May 14, 2013 (USA)
ISBNs: 0765320320 (9780765320322)
Publisher: Tor Teen

MySF Rating: Five point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 90%


Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 0
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 2 (some fantasy violence, some bullying, some slightly gruesome descriptions)

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