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Brandon Sanderson – The Rithmatist

October 23, 2013

79. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (2013)
The Rithmatist, Book 1

Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Started: 01 October 2013
Finished: 05 October 2013

Where did it come from? Downloaded from Amazon.
Why do I have it? New Brandon Sanderson!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 01 September 2013.

And here I spent my
childhood thinking chalk was just
for playing hopscotch.

Summary: Joel is a charity student at one of the most prestigious academies in the United Isles of America. Joel is smart, but isn’t doing very well in his studies, because all he really wants to do is become a Rithmatist – one of the elite group of magicians who use complex chalk drawings to defend against the horde of wild chalkings and whatever other dark powers inhabit the battleground isle of Nebrask. But Rithmatists are chosen when they are children, and Joel’s 16 now, so his chance has passed. But still, when students from the university – Rithmatics students – begin disappearing under bizarre and seemingly impossible circumstances, it might just be Joel’s obsession with the Rithmatists that will lead to solving the mystery. But by placing himself in the middle of the investigation, has he made himself the next target?

Review: This book has a lot of things going for it, things that Brandon Sanderson does really well. It’s wonderfully imaginative and original. It’s got a cool system of magic that’s got its own internal logic, and is like nothing I’ve really encountered before. It moves along at a fast clip, and the action sequences (in this case, drawing duels between Rithmatists) are excellently and excitingly done, and easy to follow and visualize. I also loved the drawings between the chapters, diagrams of Rithmatic circles and notations, like they were out of a Rithmatic textbook. I also appreciate that Sanderson doesn’t do his worldbuilding in a large infodump, but parcels out bits of his (future? alternate? vaguely steampunky?) world as you go. So this book does have a lot going for it, and I found it a very entertaining read.

That said, and it kills me to say this, as big of a fan of Sanderson’s as I am, but this book wasn’t one of my favorites, and I might even say it’s one of his weaker ones. I’ve seen some suggestion that maybe it’s because it’s YA, whereas he usually writes for adults, but I don’t think that’s it, since the Alcatraz Smedry books don’t have the same problems as this one, nor did Steelheart (which I read after this one), and those are both for younger audiences as well.

My biggest problem with this book was that it overly simplified, particularly the tone of the writing, and that in turn made the characters feel flat. (Maybe not as flat as the chalklings, though, which was my biggest stumbling block with the world-building: how do two-dimensional drawings that flow up the outside of your skin manage to turn three-dimensional enough to tear flesh from bone?) It’s not a question of Sanderson’s ability – his characters are normally very interesting and well-developed, and his other YA books still feel clever, even if they’re simultaneously being silly (i.e. Alcatraz). But the tone of The Rithmatist didn’t quite hit my ear right, and I felt as if everything (not the mystery so much, but definitely the characters and their motivations) was being overexplained.

So, that sounds pretty negative, but the truth is, I did enjoy this story quite a bit – it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s got a good but not impossible-to-figure-out-yourself mystery to it – and I had a good time reading it. I just don’t think it’s one of Sanderson’s best. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s geared as YA, but the tone to me felt more like it would be appropriate for mid-graders who are fantasy fans and like art and/or geometry. (Also, for adults who are looking for a fun and easy read, or who don’t want to commit to one of Sanderson’s longer books.)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Charlotte’s Library, Good Books and Good Wine, It’s All About Books, Surrounded by Books Reviews and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Lilly’s lamp blew out as she bolted down the hallway.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 3577: “Apostles watched, and the Master himself was symbolized on the rood.” – a crucifix, especially one positioned above the screen separating the nave from the chancel of a church.
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