The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, illus. Ben McSweeney
From 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.
Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.
Review: 3.5 Stars
Sanderson is quickly becoming one of those authors that I absolutely must read, no matter what. The Mistborn series is one of my absolute favorites, and both The Way of Kings and Warbreaker were right up there as well. All that said, I thought this novel suffered a bit from “dumb it down into YA” syndrome. The characters were predictable and somewhat, if you’ll excuse the pun, two-dimensional. The relationship between the two main characters was more twelve-year-old than sixteen-year-old. And while the world of the school seemed very well-developed, the overall universe was barely explored. But for a map inside the cover of the book, I don’t think I even would have understood the concept. Aditionally, there was a lot of talk about a place barely explored in this novel, and while that does leave a great deal of interest for a sequel, I was left feeling a bit let down that I didn’t get a better picture of the larger forces at work here. We caught glimpses of that complexity, but were not really let in on the whole story here.
However, as usual Sanderson’s strengths lie in his magic system creation and he did not fail us on that one. This magic is like nothing I’ve seen before. The Rithmatists battle using chalk drawings on the ground, using combinations of circles, lines, waves, and little creatures (“Chalklings”). Each chapter began with an illustration and description of a different Rithmatic schema. Since the entire magic system was based on drawings, the illustrations of the novel become an intrical part of the story, and I found myself flipping around in the book to see the various moves being discussed in the book. Because of that, this might be a great entry into reading longer novels for the young teen boys in your life who are into graphic novels.
While the plot and characters had so much potential, when it came right down to it I didn’t feel like Sanderson’s first entry into YA was as excellent as his other novels. On the plus side, Sanderson’s magic system was, as usual, completely novel and well-developed. The story kept me engaged throughout and had a few interesting twists and turns that I didn’t quite see coming. On the negative side, the main characters had promise, but fell a bit flat. The world of the school was well-developed, but the overall universe left me scratching my head a bit. And overall, it seemed to follow the well-worn path of many YA novels before it of “gifted children at magical boarding school encounter supernatural foe and win against all odds.” I will continue on with this series in the hopes that Sanderson finds his stride and a more unique voice within the YA world, but I am hoping for much more in the next installment.