Review. Brandon Sanderson, The Rithmatist

Last year, I had all the good intentions to participate in #YearOfCosmere and to read one novel by Brandon Sanderson a month. Knowing me, I read nill over the course of 2015. For the first book of 2016, I randomly picked a book out of my TBR-Jar and faith gave me.. a Brandon Sanderson.
Experience taught me that reading Sanderson is never ever a punishment, so when I mentioned starting and finishing the year in style in my previous review, I couldn’t be happier with my pick.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. 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 learn 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.

Perhaps I am a bit biased by the adult novels I read by him, but I loved almost everything about The Rithmatist and was continuously thinking that this must be one of the best middle grade novels out there.
In true Sanderson style, this book stands out because of its unique and elaborate magic system. No swallowing of metals nor leeching colour, but a rather scientific or mathematical approach to magic this time around. In this alternate versions of America, certain people can do magic by drawing patterns in chalk. These people get choses at the age of eight and receive a special education to train them for the war against wild chalk drawings, Chalklings. If you think these are harmless, think again.. One of the final chapters of the book shows you just how dangerous chalk can be. This, the worldbuilding and the magic, is where Sanderson excels in every single one of his books, and The Rithmatist is no different.
true Sanderson style
Rather than an epic battle to be fought like Mistborn, we get a low-key mystery in the likes of The Alloy Of Law. The mystery steadily builds throughout the novel, and that is the only flaw this book displays; it takes too long. While it is never boring and I wanted to pick up my book again and again, there’s just not a whole lot of action and tension. It goes to show that you can write a good novel without twenty fights per chapter, but a little more throughout would have been welcome to give it some more punch. The punch does come, and when it’s there it’s punching good and leaves the reader with questions aplenty for the next book. Sanderson also uses his trademark “Taking a character on a cliché route but turning it around at the finish”. Perhaps because I am terrible at guessing how a plot is going to unfold, but I was actually surprised at how certain events turned out. That being said, while there might not be a whole lot of action going on, Sanderson does make good use of the amount of pages to really establish his characters.
Joel and Melody might not be as memorable as, say, Vin and Kelsier, but they are great in their own way and really likeable. At first glance a mismatch like no other, but what a great pairing they turn out to be. What I really appreciated about them, was that they were not especially gifted or heroic, but achieved great things by relying on what they can do and know best, and relying on each other.
deliciously bratty and annoying.
Well, at least near the end, cause for the better part of the book, we get this tension between our two main characters, which is largely due to Melody being deliciously bratty and annoying. The other characters and the prime antagonist complete this great cast of characters and much like Joel and Melody, they are more ordinary than not.
Sanderson is a master-writer, so that the writing is excellent is not even a question. What also makes this book a pleasure to read, are the multiple illustrations and the student’s notes on the different Rithmatic defences and basic theories. While this is perhaps the most complex magic system of his that I’ve encountered, the page at the start of every novel visualises it perfectly so that you can paint a perfect picture in your mind and are able to understand what all this chalking is about.

If I read correctly, The Rithmatist was just a little side project between big books. Whatever it may be, I am really looking forward to the sequel. If you’re looking for a fun and clever middle grade/young YA-novel that’s wonderfully written and engaging, you can’t go wrong with Sanderson.

★ ★ ★ ★

Want to read it? Chalk it on your wishlist!

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