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.
First things first. Isn’t it great that Brandon Sanderson decided to release his newest book on my birthday two days ago? I thought that was awfully thoughtful of him. It also gave me something to look forward to on my birthday while sitting at the office with what turned out to be very little to do, which was awesome.
The Rithmatist is Sanderson’s first real YA offering. His previous books all fall very squarely into the epic fantasy genre and are written in a manner that makes them fairly dense, so most teenagers tend to shy away from them. This book is the exact opposite. Weighing in at 384 pages in length, The Rithmatist is definitely one of Sanderson’s shorter works to date, and as you read you’ll discover that he really pulled back on the reigns of his usual style of prose. Everything from plot to characters is fleshed out just enough that you don’t feel like anything is really missing, but at the same time the detail is much less impressive than his work with Mistborn and The Way of Kings as a comparison. Given that The Rithmatist is a YA novel this makes a lot of sense. Most YA fans that I know personally don’t care much about the environment detail, they care about the tropes that they love so much and whether or not they are being followed to their satisfaction.
In Joel (the main protagonist) and Melody the reader finds a fairly typical YA relationship. At the start Joel simply doesn’t understand Melody. What she’s about, how she acts, why she is the way she is. He simply doesn’t get it. As one would expect, amusing friction develops between the two of them until the start to grow on each other and eventually transition to a mutual respect and tolerance. There are a few tiny glimpses of a potential romance between the two of them, but Sanderson takes great care not to let that become an actual plot device; something for which I am extremely grateful. By the time the book is finished Joel and Melody have grown their relationship past the immature beginnings they started with into a meaningful friendship where they can complement each others’ skill sets.
As in all YA fiction there are a multitude of misdirects, plot twists, unexpected reveals about villains and heroes, and hints of a much deeper world behind the scenes. It felt very much to me like Sanderson had a pretty good grasp of what readers are looking for in a YA novel and tried to meet their expectations as well as he could while still maintaining some of his own trademark flair.
Unfortunately for me personally, The Rithmatist is actually the first book in a two or three book series. For whatever reason as I was waiting for release day I was under the impression that it was a standalone novel that wasn’t going to need follow-up pieces. As a result, when I reached the end of the book and saw the “to be continued…,” I was fairly let down. I don’t really mind that there will be more books, I quite enjoyed this one, I was just hoping for something that wasn’t going to need further work to finish the story because so much of Sanderson’s work is already part of huge multi-book arcs. I think I was hoping for another Elantris or Warbreaker type novel.
All in all, The Rithmatist was a pleasure to read. The new chalk-based magic system mixed with some religious undertones was a bit of a departure from Sanderson’s usual fare which was nice, but it did seem to lack a bit of his usual punch. The chalklings never felt all that terrifying to me as a reader so I’m not entirely sure where he wants to go with them in the future. Though I’m confident that if anyone can bring them to life the right way it would be Sanderson.
If you’re looking for a new kind of YA novel that won’t eat up weeks of you time and features some things you don’t normally see give The Rithmatist a try. Let me know what you think if you do.
Length: 384 pages