The Rithmatist--Brandon Sanderson
May 2013 by Tor Teen
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 have liked everything I've read by Brandon Sanderson, and The Rithmatist is no different. Well, it's less mindblowing than Way of Kings and Hero of Ages. Like most of Sanderson's books, The Rithmatist took me a while to get into, but after the first few chapters I got sucked in and could not put it down.
The Rithmatist has a very different feel from Sanderson's other novels. It's simpler. The characters aren't as intricately developed. There's only one plot line instead of seventeen. The world building is less rigorous. We get a fuzzy sense of the Academy and the politics of the country, but not the hundred years of history that we usually do. It's mostly a book of "Wouldn't it be cool if..." There's no particular reason that Korea has taken over Europe and that America is an archipelago. Its just cool and that's all. But, not every book needs to be developed to the point of reasoning out the ecology of the animals and plants on a given planet, and Sanderson would lose some of his younger readers if he tried.
Oh, but the magic system. I don't know how Sanderson does it, but he makes magical theory interesting. Along with the snooping and sleuthing, I loved learning the principles of Rithmatics, the various strategies you can use, the limits to the system. Somehow, the magical theory always ends up as one of the most fascinating parts of Sanderson's books. I love seeing the unique challenges that a particular magic system presents and trying to find a way around it along with the characters.
As I said earlier, the character development is a bit toned down in this novel, perhaps a bit too far. We do get some back story on how Joel and Melody's parents affected their personalities, but I wanted more. Young readers can handle more complexity than that. And we didn't get much of any development of our villains. I can excuse that for the kidnapper, since we're not supposed to know who it is, but Professor Nalizar is just the Snape figure we don't trust because...we don't. Hopefully, we'll learn more about the Forgotten and get some villain complexity in the next book.
Can I just give a shout out here for platonic relationships? Finally! A young adult novel where a boy and girl can just be friends without being romantically interested in each other. I have a feeling that that might change in later books, but at least for now, Joel and Melody are just friends.
The book is well paced, but I'm not perfectly happy with the way the ending. I feel like there are some unacceptably loose strings. But that only bothered me a little. I will of course read book 2. When it comes out. In two years.