The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 378 (Hardcover)
Series: The Rithmatist #1
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.
Brandon Sanderson is a bestselling author. He was hand chosen by Robert Jordan to finish the Wheel of Time series. Those facts coupled with his large fan base had me going into The Rithmatist with high expectations. He is supposedly a wonderful creator of fantasy worlds and magic styles but I found only hints of these things in this book.
Starting off, the setting for this fantasy is in a re-imagined America. In the United Isles of America there are 60 American isles like Nebraska, Georgiabama, The California Archipelago, etc. This setting and lack of explanation of world was a consistent bother throughout the entirety of this book. In a time for YA literature when America is a popular setting, the idea that Brandon Sanderson created a whole new world from America to Egyptia but lacked clear definition was extremely disappointing.
The disappointment in clarity of ideas was furthered in the concept of chalklings. The idea of chalklings and rithmatics all together was a very broad and abstract idea that took no real and definitive shape until the end of the book. It was not hard to follow but it was such a vague concept that required such technical and geometric writing that it was not balanced very well, even with illustrations.
I was also beside myself with disbelief that the book took on such a religious metaphor. The idea that Rithmatists were touched by the Master (a metaphor for God) was too much. It took on connotations and ideas that should have been left well enough alone for a fantasy escape. To tie this to another point, the history of Rithmatics was dabbled in throughout the book but it only allowed for more plot holes/questions. If Rithmatics would never have been discovered by King Gregory, why would there be Chalklings in the first place to be wild? What dark force could create the things that attack Nebrask? It's too open-ended and unanswered even to be a series.
Even when an overall idea or setting is lacking, the characters and plot have the opportunity to "fix" a book. Again, I am underwhelmed by Brandon Sanderson in that his characters and plot fell flat. Joel was a likeable enough character but at a certain point he is obsessed with Rithmatics, something he can never do, to the point he is outsmarting scholars? Prodigies exist but Joel doesn't fit into that mold either. Sometimes I found myself wanting to yell and scream at him that he is forgetting to live the life he has in leiu of his dream. Joel is poor, intelligent, and down on his luck but that doesn't make him a favorite for much.
But at least he is able to find a true friend that happens to be a girl and doesn't require romance. Melody is the one redeeming factor this book had to offer. She was quirky, her attempts at her rithmatic destiny were futile, but she was determined. There are a lot of terms to define her, and in the beginning she is quite a hassle to deal with, but in the end, she is a shining win.
Overall, this book seemed to be striving to be like Harry Potter and it failed. It ended up simply being campy, cliche, and an over used fantasy idea hidden under the guise of a unique magic system.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆