The Rithmatist is the third book I’ve read by Brandon Sanderson (I’m on a bit of a Sanderson binge right now). While different from most of his other works, The Rithmatist is still a fun and worthwhile read.
The Rithmatist takes place on a fictional version of the United States, known as the United Isles. The setting is one I’ve never seen before knows as Clockpunk, similar to Steampunk except that everything is powered by springs and clockwork gears. Joel is the son of a dead chalkmaker who wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist- someone who has the power to bring chalk drawings to life. Attending school at one of the academies that trains Rithmatists, Joel suddenly finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery when Rithmatist students begin vanishing. With the help of a timid Rithmatist professor and Rithmatist student, Joel must solve the mystery before another child gets kidnapped- or worse.
The first thing you’ll notice when reading The Rithmatist is that it was written for a younger audience than Sanderson usually caters to. Young adult readers, fans of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, will likely find this book to be written in a style that they can connect with better than, say, Elantris or Mistborn. The worldbuilding is not as prevalent as in his more mature stories, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You still get a decent idea of what the United Isles are like, with their spring- and clockwork machines and Old America style of clothing. Also interesting is that the story is not set up as an epic quest, but as a murder mystery.
The focus, like most other young adult stories, is on the characters, which are a bit of a mixed bag. Joel is the fairly unremarkable protagonist. He is the story’s obligatory normal guy who wants to be something special. His attributes, like having an uncanny understanding of Rithmatics, are interesting, but he himself is pretty forgettable. He never says anything memorable or reacts to problems in any way that is unexpected. His mentor, Professor Fitch, was a more memorable character. He’s a great teacher when in a controlled environment, but when confronted he loses his nerve. Much of the story involves him learning to grow a backbone. Melody is the final main character, and she’s a bit hit or miss. Her knack for overdramatics can make her both endearing or annoying, depending on what part of the book it is. I, personally, found her far more tolerable when she manages to calm down and act normal.
As the title would suggest, Rithmatics make up the main part of the story. At its core, it involves two people (known as Rithmatists) drawing lines with chalk to attack each other. However, Sanderson has added in a surprising amount of depth to it. The pages of the book include several drawing of various defenses one can set up, and the theories for drawing chalklings and how they work. The action can get hectic, but Sanderson manages to clearly depict it with minimal confusion. If there were to ever be a real life version of this game made, I suspect it would hold up as strong as other games like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering.
While other Sanderson books are known for their impressive plot twists, The Rithmatist is fairly straightforward. Yes, there is a plot twist, but it wasn’t nearly as surprising as the ones I found in Warbreaker and Mistborn. This isn’t a complaint, as the story is still told very well, but I found that it was worth noting all the same.
In the end, The Rithmatist was a very enjoyable read. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did Mistborn and Warbreaker, but that’s a case of personal preference. Those who want a rich, fast paced fantasy story that’s different than anything else on the market need look no further than The Rithmatist. Those expecting a quest style story set in a world that could rival Tolkien’s creation may be disappointed, but might still find a story they’ll enjoy.
I give The Rithmatist an 8.0/10!