The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – Review

The Rithmatist

Book Jacket:

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.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

You can read an excerpt here.


Holy smokes, I loved it.

If you can believe it, this is the first book I’ve ever read by Brandon Sanderson – I know,  I know – and so I came in knowing absolutely nothing and ended up walking away a true fan, because there was literally nothing about this book I didn’t like. The world, the characters, the sense of danger, the hint of mystery, the fabulous system of magic – which I guarantee you’ve never seen before – it was all fantastic, and all in all it added up to a ridiculous amount of fun.

But first and foremost, we have to talk about the originality of Sanderson’s world – because, wow. As someone who reads a lot – a LOT – of fantasy, it’s a rare and wondrous thing for me to find a world of magic where NOTHING is familiar, where nothing tickles a shade of something I’ve read before, but this book was exactly that – seriously, the Rithmatics are freaking awesome. Sanderson basically puts all others to shame with the thought and detail he’s built into his magical system – the diagrams, the geometry, the offenses and defenses, and of course the marvelously creepy chalkings in all their many shapes and forms – and I was just effortlessly sucked into it all, every detail and diagram, while all the while delighting at the chance to explore new territory.

And speaking of the particular magic of this book, I also absolutely loved how neither Joel nor Melody (our two heroes) were Super. As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a distressing tendency in YA and MG hero stories to have kids who are Exceptionally Great At Everything – they’re fantastic at fighting AND magic AND witty comebacks! They and they alone have The Power to save us all! – and so it was wonderful to find in this book a pair of heroes who have things they very definitely CANNOT do. And the way they both struggle against their own shortcomings, frustrated by and with their own limitations, makes them both so wonderfully sympathetic and human that it’s effortless to root for them – and watching them snipe and swipe at each other, while all the while gradually figuring out how to work together, is just fun. Plus, the fact that Melody loves to draw deadly pink unicorns is just hilariously awesome.

Really the only thing I can say against this book is that it does very clearly telegraph who the Bad Guy is, pretty much from the start – but even that didn’t turn out to be a bad thing. It was actually fun to have a villain looming about, creating a clear and present danger – and even though we know who is behind everything, Sanderson still manages to pack in some surprising reveals at the end. It almost felt sneaky, in a way, in that there I was thinking Sanderson had all his cards on the table, when he actually still had an ace up his sleeve – and I liked that a heck of a lot.

So yes, in the end this original tale of magical adventure makes for superb fun – or to put it another way, reading this book just made me happy. And boy oh boy, I cannot wait to read the next one!

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

Featuring ingenious magic (complete with profuse chalk drawing–style diagrams and illustrations from McSweeney), feisty characters, and a complex plot likely to unwind over several volumes, this high-spirited, exciting story will appeal to readers of all ages.

The Book Smugglers say:

The Rithmatist is an imaginative, action-packed SFF adventure – entertaining, fun, and with oodles of future potential. In other words: get your chalk out, folks, because this is another good one from Brandon Sanderson.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Fantasy readers should devour this well-crafted mix of action and setup, enriched by a thoroughly detailed cultural and historical background and capped by a distinctly unsettling twist.