The Rithmatist, is a compelling piece of Young Adult fantasy that delivers the whole way through. Sanderson hits all the right notes when it comes to all the usual YA themes; coming of age, the meaning of true friendship, loyalty, perseverance, and even a didactic against bullying. As expected in a Sanderson novel, the magic system is completely unique. The basic idea is that specially gifted individuals can write complex diagrams which control chalk drawings (called “chalklings”). At times the magic system is overly complicated, but it’s original and by the end of the book it all comes together quite masterfully.
The characters are a fun bunch to read about – every one of them is unique with their distinct personalities and idiosyncrasies. Sanderson does a good job here and the characters keep you fully entertained. I especially liked the contrast between Melody, a Rithmatist student who doesn’t take her studies seriously, and Joel, who lacks Rithmatist powers.
The story centers on Joel, the son of a lowly chalk-maker.
Due to some special circumstances, Joel attends one of the top schools in the country; however, what interests him are not the mundane studies, but rather the Rithmatic classes – special classes that the magically gifted attend. As a non-rithmatist, Joel is unable to pursue Rithmatic studies, except for occasionally sneaking into Rithmatic classes.
The setting is a bit Harry Potter-esque – a magic school of sorts. You’ll definitely see some of the similarities to Harry Potter as you progress through the story. Think of Joel as a sort of Harry Potter, but a Harry Potter who can’t actually perform magic and can only watch in envy as his peers do. Joel being extremely bright but not magically talented adds an interesting dynamic to the story. Sanderson uses this to create an absolutely brilliant ending.
The story, setting, and magic system also reminded me a bit of The Name of The Wind – especially the part where Kvothe attends magic school and studies a rigidly structured magic with specific rules.
The world is pretty similar to our world near the turn of the century with magical elements added to it. It almost feels a bit like 20th century England with parts of Lord of the Rings added into the geography.
Overall, The Rithmatist is a fantastic book that will guarantee to keep both adults and kids entertained. My only complaint is we will have to wait another year to continue the story.
Review by Ben.
Notes from me (Jon!): I have to agree with Ben on every point here. I think this book is really fun to read, it has a great ending (I called it!) and never did I feel cheated. One of the strengths Sanderson has is being able to pull his readers into his world. To make the unbelievable just a little bit believable. You'll want to cheer for the good guys and boo at the bad guys. A great pick up if you haven't read it already. Sanderson has hinted that this is going to be a two part series.