Sanderson. Please. Stop making me desperately cling to your words hoping they will never stop. And stop tricking me into reading books for incomplete series. As soon as The Rithmatist ended, I knew I needed more. IMMEDIATELY.
Joel wants desperately to be a Rithmatist– someone who battles using chalk and two-dimensional geometry to protect the world he lives in from the equally two-dimensional Wild Chalkings. The Rithmatists are the final defense in the United Isles of America, and you can only become one through a religious ceremony held when you are 8-years-old. Unfortunately, Joel isn’t a Rithmatist. He’s just the son of a chalkmaker who, thanks to his deceased father’s connections, is attending school at the most prestigious Rithmatist academy in the Isles. Only he’s a normal student. And that just makes it hurt even more. Desperate to study Rithmastics in any way he can, Joel finds himself the research assistant for a recently dressed-down Rithmasty professor and befriending the most ostracized Rithmasty student attending Armedius academy. And, unknowingly, on the hunt for things that will change Rithmastics forever.
What good is having friends if they don’t put you in mortal peril every once in a while?
If you have never read Sanderson before, well, you are in for a treat! Brandon Sanderson is known for incredible world building in his fantasy novels, particularly around magic systems. The Rithmatist is no exception. Obviously, Rithmatics is our magic system. This system is based around the idea that a Rithmastist draws two-dimensional lines with chalk and can imbue those lines with power in order to attack and defend according to the Rithmatist’s need. On the surface, this sounds fairly simple. However, it’s a complicated magic system defined by an imperfect blend of geometry, math, and art.
Joel, our protagonist, is not a Rithmatist. However, he is a Rithmatist scholar; not that he’d define himself that way– but Joel is obsessed with Rithmatics! This allows the reader to be introduced to Rithmatics just as Joel is. And as Joel is excited to learn about Rithmatics and everything to do with this magic system, the reader finds this all to be intriguing as well. Yes, Joel is a 16-year-old boy, and there are certainly moments where he completely embodies the stereotype. But that makes this story believable. Plus, his passion for learning Rithmatics, and little nothing else, is also a brilliant flaw. His brilliance makes Joel’s poor grade and school focus believable while also allowing him to excel at Rithmatics.
Joel, lad, school is about learning to learn. If you don’t practice studying things you don’t like, then you’ll have a very hard time in life.
Occasionally, illustrator Ben McSweeney provides Rithmatics diagrams. These pages show examples of Rithmatic drawings, along with explanations of how they should be used.I found this extraordinarily helpful to immediately grasp the concepts being discussed around Rithmacy. Even though I don’t fully grasp all the geometric concepts discussed, I was still able to follow along thanks to McSweeney’s art.
The characters are wonderful. Sanderson creates some character who, on the surface, seem to be complete stereotypes. Including Joel. Yet, he breaks from the mold occasionally and ensures all his characters are flawed, making them believable. As a young adult-focused novel, there are more stereotypes than I’m used to seeing in Sanderson’s works. But, I should have known to trust him, as by the end of the novel he is blowing all those stereotypes away. For example, Joel might be a stereotypical 16-year-old, but what makes him compelling is what he represents rather than his personality.
“Not having ice cream”, she proclaimed, “is the culmination of all disasters!”
My favorite character is Melody. She is feisty, overdramatic, and copes with her Rithmatics ineptitude and family struggles by being a bit of a stand-offish jerk. As we get to know Melody and her backstory, she becomes more and more relatable– while still having brilliant one-liners. She’s the character you want as your best friend, even if at the beginning you don’t like her much.
…everyone knows that ice cream is worth the trouble of being cold. Like all things virtuous, you have to suffer to gain the reward.
(Melody: You rock. Even if your life is a complete tragedy. )
As with all Sanderson plots, not everything is as it seems! One of my favorite hobbies, which I often don’t even realize I’m doing, involved predicting what will happen next in a novel. I’ve gotten quite good at it, actually. It’s a fun game to play. Sanderson is out to play the long game, though. And this throws a wrench in the works for me. Every time I peg something, a new twist is thrown in and I’m caught off balance. It takes quite a bit to throw me off at this point, and I adore every second of it. I didn’t expect to solve a mystery, and I’m glad there is still more to solve.
I highly recommend this to any fan of fantasy– young adult or otherwise. But we warned! The second book of this trilogy doesn’t get published until 2017.