The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel takes us into a world where those who have been chosen are able to bring chalk drawings to life through the use of Rithmatics. It’s a complex magic system that Brandon executes in his usual flawless fashion while still retaining a hidden depth to be explored in further installments. While branded as Young Adult The Rithmatist features some mature themes that are still accessible to the younger generation. It’s a fun and easy read that fans of Brandon’s work should not miss out.
This is a world of clockwork and Brandon uses every chance he can to show it off. From mechanized horses that travel the streets to the clockwork crabs that mow the grass. Even the gold coins feature tiny gears that you can prime with a key and set spinning. It’s a wonderful touch that provides an interesting piece of to the world and the setting of each scene.
Joel, our sixteen-year-old hero, is the son of a cleaning lady at one of the most prestigious schools in the United Isles, Armedius Academy. Not only is Armedius a place to learn about History or Mathematics but also it is a place to learn Rithmatics. The ability to bring chalk drawings to life in order to do battle with other Rithmatists. Joel is fascinated with Rithmatics and is a prodigy, able to freehand draw near perfect defensive circles as well as retain an impressive amount of information on the magic system in general. There is one problem however; Joel is completely devoid of any Rithmatic talent himself.
When Armedius is plagued by an assailant known as the Scribbler who kidnaps the Rithmatic students it is up to Joel, an aged Professor, and a young Rithmatist named Melody to aid the police in solving the crime.
Counterpoint to our main character, Joel, is Melody. A young Rithmatist who has trouble drawing steady defensive lines yet excels at artistic renderings of chalklings. Melody adds a refreshing bit of humor to the story with some of the most memorable dialogue in the book. Such as one instance after running into Joel for the third time that day – “Just don’t show up outside my window at night, or I shall have to scream and throw something at you.”
Rithmatics uses the power of chalk to create defensive circles and animated minions between two Rithmatists in a duel. It hearkens to old Real-Time Strategy games and focuses on the quick thinking and skill of each duelist in order to obtain victory. The system itself has religious underpinnings, with each child undergoing a ceremonial process at the age of eight to determine if they have the gift or not. This shrouds the entire system in a complex mystery that begs to be answered. Luckily Brandon has written in a promise for future installments with an declaration of “To Be Continued.”
With a magic system focused so heavily on complex diagrams and drawings made from chalk, pictures would be a prime benefit to include, and luckily Brandon and his team had realized this early on. Illustrated by the talented Ben McSweeney, the same gentleman that sketched for Way of Kings, are numerous doodles and representations of chalkings spread throughout the text along with diagrams of the varied types of defense preceding each chapter. It’s a wonderful touch that had me excited to dig out my street chalk and run outside to try my hand at the Easton Defense.
While marketed and branded in the Young Adult market really The Rithmatist would be at home on the shelf of anyone who enjoys a fun read with an interesting plot and magic system. Sanderson isn’t afraid to tackle some bigger issues in the course of the book while still remaining tame enough for children.
Any fan of fantasy, young or old, should not miss The Rithmatist. It is the latest in an immensely successful career of one of the titans of fantasy.