The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson is, I believe, this authors first novel in the young adult market.
As a big fan of Brandon Sanderson's adult books I was hesitant in reading this as I was worried that the author may lose some of his story telling ability and complexity of his magic systems when writing for a younger audience... I really needn't have worried.
As he did with Elantris, the Mistborn books, the first book of the continuing Stormlight saga and pretty much any book I have read by this author, he has created a wonderfully original fantasy world with a magic system that is both complex and easy to grasp at the same time, This author is also one of the main panelists on a podcast called writing excuses and after listening to those and realising just how much thought and effort goes into every novel it is not surprising that they are as good as they are.
This book is a fast paced fantasy novel set in alternate reality, steampunk version of America. The characters are well rounded and loveable, the action is surprisingly exciting considering a lot of it is centred around people drawing pictures in chalk but most importantly this novel is yet another success for an author who is never afraid to try something new,
It is easy for me to say that Brandon Sanderson is the most exciting author writing fantasy today. His willingness to constantly test himself in creating original ideas is what leads to successes like this novel. He backs up those original ideas with great writing that it am especially impressed with in this novel as I rarely felt as though he was dumbing it down for a younger audience as so many YA authors have a tendency to do,
All together another excellent novel to add to the quickly growing Sanderson shelf on my bookcase and I am eagerly awaiting the next novel in this series.
One of the things that makes Brandon Sanderson a truly brilliant fantasy write is his ability to come up with unique, original magical systems.
And he churns out another one in his young-adult debut: a geometric magical system based on lines and circles, with two-dimensional chalk creatures summoned by "The Rithmatist." The first half is rather slow, but the story blossoms when it focuses on the missing Rithmatic students -- think a combination of alternate history, fantasy and murder mystery.
Despite being only a poor chalkmaker's son, Joel is able to attend the prestigious Armedius Academy -- but he spends most of his time thinking about Rithmatic duels, history and strategy. He knows that he will never be a Rithmatist, but he still yearns to study it. When an arrogant new professor turns the Rithmatics department upside-down, he gets the chance to be an assistant to the kindly Rithmatics-historian Professor Finch.
But around the same time, students start vanishing from Armedius. Not only are the vanished students all Rithmatists, but the only clue left behind is a chalk marking that no one has seen before.
Then the son of a knight-senator is brutally killed by chalklings controlled by "the Scribbler." Suddenly Armedius is the center of political and social strife, and the police are brought in to protect the students who remain. Joel and his oddball friend Melody are quickly enmeshed in the investigation, but even Joel's encyclopedic knowledge of Rithmatics might not be enough to catch the Scribbler.
"The Rithmatist" is set it a pretty memorable world -- it's an alternate version of Earth where JoSeun (aka Korea) conquered Europe, South America is ruled by an Aztec empire, and the USA is a vast archipelago of fifty ISLANDS. Also, Leonardo Da Vinci is a steampunk saint (not kidding), and Rithmatics is not just a magical system, but a part of religion as well.
The first several chapters are rather slow, though -- Sanderson spends too much time on Joel's obsessions and schoolwork. Not interesting. It feels like he had started the story before fully outlining his plot, world and magic system. But everything seems to click into place once Joel gets involved in the mystery -- suddenly we have a murder investigation tangled up in political machinations, as well as some mysterious magical goings-on (wild chalklings, mysterious signs, etc).
Sanderson is a pretty good writer of mysteries, and he knows how to work in plot twist after plot twist. So he deftly weaves together a twisty whodunnit, picking up seemingly unimportant details and weaving them into the greater whole. His writing is strong and smooth, with lots of humor, mostly from Melody (unicorns!), and the occasional moment of sheer horror, such as Joel being attacked by wild chalklings and finding himself unable to scream.
And without revealing too much, Sanderson seems to change his mind in the last chapter. It seems like it's going to be a standalone book.... but he throws in some final twists, and opens the door to sequels. In fact, he pretty much guarantees them.
Joel comes across as whiny at times, but he's overall a likable hero -- he's strong-willed, smart and obsessed with Rithmatics, and he has to use these qualities to hold his own among the Rithmatists. He's also got a pretty solid supporting cast, especially Melody -- a humorously eccentric rich girl who is Joel's opposite in every way, and so she complements him nicely. There's also the cruel Nalizar, Joel's hardworking mom, and the pleasantly paternal Professor Fitch.
"The Rithmatist" has a rather weak beginning, but the brilliant mystery that blossoms later on makes this book well worth reading -- and leaves you hungry for more adventures in the United Isles of America. On to Nebrask!
on 17 June 2013
As with many of Brandon Sanderson's own books, The Rithmatist constructs a world with an interesting premise for how the fundamentals of magic work, and some interesting characters, and then explores the result with a focus on the characters. As always, the results make for very enjoyable reading for anyone, even if this book seems to be aimed at younger readers (in terms of length and content).
The only reservation that I have in hoping for a followup for this book is that I dearly want the author to work on some of sequels to his other works.
on 26 June 2013
I was hooked on The Rithmatist by page 29. I wasn't sure what to expect as sometimes this kind of book can be too 'kiddy,' but it's actually perfect in almost every way. The amount of detail that has gone into creating Joel's world is astounding; not only has an entirely new system of magic been created (complete with full explanations and diagrams), but it also includes a full backstory and logical reasoning. Even the political and religious implications are explored, and a lot of time is spent explaining the tenuous relationship between the Rithmatists, the Church and the State. I have never read a YA book this well thought-out.
It's completely and utterly unique. I've obviously come across magic circles in books before, but only as a method of conjuring and containing demons. The Rithmatist is something else; something new and different that takes magic duels and turns them completely on their head. I wrote this three times in my review book, phrased various different ways, so clearly this particular aspect had a huge impact.
I was originally concerned when I saw the words 'Illustrations by Ben McSweeney' on the cover, as novels that include pictures are usually aimed at a much younger audience and are therefore too childish for my tastes. Here though, they actually are necessary and helpful. It's a story about battles with drawings, for God's sake! There are instructional diagrams that could be straight from a Rithmatist textbook, but also more descriptive pictures of the various battle monsters involved. I actually liked them quite a lot, as they didn't distract from the story in the slightest.
If I had one complaint, it's that occasionally it's a little... preachy. Not wham-in-your-face type stuff, but sometimes there is A Message To Be Learnt. I know a lot of children's books have a moral undertone, but if a teenager hasn't learnt not to show off (for example) by the time they're at an age to read The Rithmatist, there probably isn't a lot of hope for them.
I quite desperately want the next book now, although it hasn't even been announced as yet. The ending of The Rithmatist is perfect though - none of that cheap dramatic cliff-hanger crap. It's a perfect balance between tying off all the loose threads, but clearly indicating where the next book is going to go.
I know you probably get the idea by now, but this book is amazing. It would actually make a really great film - it's unique and fun, but also clever and kind of creepy. I actually had to stay up late just to finish it. If you like YA or fantasy or magic or.... well, anything else, you absolutely have to read this.
To be honest upon reading the books blurb I was left wondering what the hell? This idea doesn't sound like its going to work. The concept feels a little flat and perhaps a little childish. Had this been anyone other than Brandon Sanderson, well I might well have given it a miss. And boy was I pleased that I did pick this up.
The characters within were interesting, the magicks when they happened were wonderful and when added to the usual gripping writing style of Mr Sanderson alongside a good solid pace, all round made this a really enjoyable book to escape with.
on 29 March 2016
Joel goes to a school that also caters to students studying to become rithamists - a type of magical warrior that can fight against 'wild chalklings' with their own drawings and measurements (yeah, it sounds weird but it's surprisingly easy enough to get the gist of). When rithmatist students start disappearing in strange circumstances, Joel becomes part of the investigation.
I surprisingly enjoyed this. I was expecting a good story cause I had heard great things about Brandon Sanderson's writing, but I wasn't expecting to be quite so sucked in. The build-up of the world was pretty good, though I thought it was a dystopia type world at first, I think it was actually more of an alternate reality to our world today. The explanations of the different types of circles and lines and defences used by the rithmatists did go a bit over my head. I just saw shapes and my math-hating brain shut off, basically.
Joel was a good protagonist and I really liked his growing relationship with Melody. They never deviated from what I expected of them so their personalities really held firm. I also liked the professors Fitch and Nalizar. I couldn't help but think of Professor Slughorn from Harry Potter when it came to Fitch, that bumbling type of teacher and Nalizar's story arc reminded me a lot of how Harry treated and suspected Snape in the Philosopher's Stone.
I'm really hope another book will come out soon as I really feel there's so much more to come with this story and Joel's story.
on 2 May 2015
The Rithmatist is an inventive and detailed story which focuses on two outsiders studying at Armedius Academy: Joel the chalk-makers son, with an instinctive, internalised grasp of mathematics who is not, though he longs to be, a Rithmatist, and Melody Mims, a failing Rithmatist student who prefers to sketch unicorns rather than improve the accuracy of her geometric diagrams.
At first they don’t get on, Melody has a scratchy personality and a massive chip on her shoulder, but the twosome find common ground in attempting to work out why Rithmatist students are disappearing, kidnapped from their rooms at night... leaving trails of blood.
Rithmatists from the islands of the New World use their magical powers as a defence against the inimical Chalklings who inhabit the Tower of Nebrask – the only freestanding structure of apparent human design to be found when the Islands were first discovered.
Students who complete their training at the Armedius Accademy, are sent to Nebrask to help keep the Chalklings penned in the Tower, and thus keep the American Isles safe from their depredations. It turns out that the kidnapped students are top-quality Rithmatists expected to be powerful fighters in the Tower war. Their loss is catastrophic.
Joel is assigned to Professor Fitch as an aide in Fitch’s investigation into the kidnappings. Inquisitive Melody tags along. In the course of their investigation, Joel discovers vital information in his dead father’s workshop. Then after a confrontation with a magical opponent he and Melody realise that there’s a whole lot more going on at Newbrask than people are aware of.
What they discover is something that will change Rithmatics, and their world, forever.
This fabulous book meant for young adult readers is more readable than a lot of lit-fic novels written for the older reader. The excitingly-tense story is told with flowing ease and is a definite page turner. I look forward to reading the planned sequel, The Aztlantian.
on 1 November 2013
Aimed at a similar audience to his `Alcatraz' series, `The Rithmatist' is a strong work of young adult fiction but will also appeal to any reader of the author's more adult works. Indeed much of the same qualities are present. Sanderson uncanny ability to create very convincing and real fictional worlds is used here to create an alternative of our own world where the United States is a collection of islands, monsters made of chalk terrorise the land and children with the given ability to bring their own chalk drawings to life are trained from a young age to fight these monsters.
The protagonist, Joel, is a teenage school boy who dreams of becoming a Rithmatist (someone with this power to control their drawings) but lacks the ability. In his efforts to learn more about Rithmatism he, along with a Rithmatist tutor and a Rithmatist friend, becomes involved in a murder investigation which seems to involve a rogue Rithmatist.
The author crafts some very well developed and detailed characters. Joel is instantly endearing and should easy appeal to young readers. Melody, his unusual Rithmatist student friend is aptly annoying to start with but as Joel comes to like her during the course of the novel so does the reader. Fitch as the uncomfortable tutor that lacks confidence in his own abilities is also quite memorable.
The novel has a strong plot with the twists to suit a murder mystery but also the magic and atmosphere of a fantasy story. It is a well constructed mixture. Due to the type of work it is it will obviously get compared to The Dark Materials and Harry Potter books, and it stand up well to either. There is the potential for a great series here and undoubtedly we will see more Rithmatist novels.
on 24 July 2013
Maths. For so many school-goers, such a difficult subject to get to grips with. If only there was a way to make it more exciting. Maybe with laser beams, or explosions perhaps, or, even better, what if your geometric diagrams came to life to do battle with those of other students?
Well, in New York Times-bestselling author Brandon Sanderson's young adult novel, The Rithmatist, that is exactly what does occur in the classrooms of Armedius Academy. Unfortunately for the book's protagonist, Joel, however, he's strictly forbidden from studying the magical, mathematical art he finds so alluring.
Joel is the son of a lowly, deceased chalk-maker, and is only granted attendance to the prestigious Academy because his father and the principal were such close friends. Sadly, attendance is not enough to allow Joel into the exclusive Rithmatic lectures he so desperately wants to be a part of. Rithmatists (magical individuals who can bring chalk diagrams and monster-like chalklings to life) are few and far between and their art is a closely guarded secret.
Joel is a bright young thing, though, and, through his messaging duties, sneaks his way into many a lecture on the Rithmatic campus. With his keen mind and well-honed mathematical ability, he eventually manages to work himself into the good books of an elderly Rithmatic professor, and even earns himself the chance to be the man's assistant over the summer break.
Sanderson has created a fine magical world and the Rithmatic system, which is fairly complicated, is transmitted impressively through short, intermittent textbook-style explanations. With the existence of magic not being hidden from the masses (as in Harry Potter), the book also offers a fascinating account of the social implications of magicians interacting with muggles. Prejudice and jealously all rear there ugly heads and this aspect of the story is surely the novel's greatest strength.
The actual Rithmatic duels are also wonderfully exciting, despite, at their core, consisting of two individuals scribbling pictures on the ground. There is, however, the odd problem. For example, the resemblance of snide Professor Nalizar to Professor Snape is difficult to ignore, and many of the book's relationships develop in a fairly predictable manner.
Overall, however, The Rithmatist is an excellent tale which creates a beautifully textured world and, when Rithmatists slowly begin to disappear, the story really does have you desperate to find out what's going on.
on 22 July 2013
I have spotted The Rithmatist on other blogs and was very interested to see what it was about, when the chance came to review the audiobook I said yes immediatley, and as soon as the book was downloaded I began listening straight away, and every day, except the day I left my iPod at work, till I finished the book.
I was immediately drawn into the world Brandon has created, and whilst listening it reminded me slightly of the world of Harry Potter, just without the wizards, and wands. Rithmatists have the ability to draw chalk lines and protect themselves and others from attack, until danger strikes and soon the Rithmatists are disappearing, leaving behind mysterious chalk lines and patterns that no one can make sense of.
I absolutely love the idea about how chalk gives the Rithmatists the ability to duel, draw Rithmatist lines for defence, and chalklings to attack others lines, where your ability to win is not determined by how physically strong and tough you are, but on how well you can draw your lines, defend them, and attack others lines.
Joel, the protagonist, isn't a Rithmatist but has the amazing ability to understand the lines and draw them perfectly, down to the last millimetre, and knows a lot about Rithmatic abilities. He is drawn into this mystery as he is initially allowed to study under a professor, and ends up helping the professor study old census's trying to find clues into who could be responsible for the disappearances. Unbeknown to the professor, and the police force called in to investigate, Joel turns out to be a remarkable help in working out the clues.
Melody, who is a Rithmatist, is another student under the same professor, who is there to study the lines and practise them over and over again to make herself better, isn't immediately a likeable character to me, but a we get to know her she soon grew on me and I looked forward to listening to the banter between Joel and Melody, and also see what this unlikely duo would get up to next. I love how she is completely opposite Joel personality wise and in a situation that is dangerous to Joel, she is quick to be offended for not being invited to the 'party'.
As The Rithmatist progresses we learn more about Melody and Joel. We learn about Melody s family and her background, and also why Joel isn't a Rithmatist, and my heart broke for him when I found out the truth. When Melody suggests a possible solution to Joel's problem I wanted to hug her for actually caring about Joel and his dreams.
The Rithmatist was a surprising 'read' for me, from the synopsis alone it sounded interesting, but as I began to listen I found myself falling into this world hard and fast, reluctantly turning it off when I had to socialise with work colleagues in the staff room when all I wanted to do was keep listening. The author not only draws you under his spell with the world he has created, but the narrator brings this world to life with the way he tells the story. The different tones used for characters made it easy to distinguish who was speaking and hours would pass by quickly while I listened.
I enjoyed trying to guess who was responsible for the disappearances and why, and while I guessed the wrong character, I was correct in thinking there was something not quite right with him. One thing I miss out on with the audiobooks is getting to see the diagrams of the lines that come before in each new chapter beginning. The Rithmatist was a great read from start to finish, and I intend to pick up a physical copy soon so I get to have it on my shelf, and also so I get to see the drawings.
I also can't believe we have to wait till 2015 to find out what happens next........really......that long.....it's torture.
**Audiobook was provided free in exchange for an honest review**