The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Joel wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are the chosen, the ones who can draw lines in chalk and bring them to life. They are also the warriors who fight wild chalklings, little chalk monsters which can attack and kill humans. But Joel’s chalk lines will never be more than ordinary. Still, when someone begins targeting Rithmatists, Joel gets pulled into the mystery, along with a remedial Rithmatist student named Melody.

I really enjoyed this book. The setting is both alternate history and steampunk, which means even the familiar elements become strange. North America is an archipelago, Asia conquered Europe, Aztecs still have a great deal of power in South America, to name a few. And I find it amusing that the most dangerous place in the United Isles is the Tower at Nebrask. The steampunk elements in some respects get less attention than the political elements, which I thought worked well, as it’s clear the steamworks are a normal part of Joel’s life.

The magic system is unique, and the dangers intriguing. Here’s where the illustrations make the book much better than it could be otherwise. Before every chapter, some illustration diagrams a concept or defense. Even though the prose will describe them, it’s helpful to have a visual—and it’s often amusing when battles between chalklings are taking place, and little unicorns or scribble monsters are fighting next to the paragraphs. Much of Rithmatism is based on geometry, with an emphasis on drawing precise angles or lines. But the actual execution of Rithmatism is more like a game of Age of Empires, where each side builds walls and units and tries to break through the other person’s defenses.

Joel is sympathetic, but realistic. His obsession with being a Rithmatist can make him intolerable to be around, he doesn’t have much regard for other people, and he’s a slacker in class because he figures he’ll just do well on his exams. Interestingly, most of his negative character qualities actually get challenged, and he does start to come around. Melody is less nuanced and a little annoying herself, but they play well off of each other. And her pictures of unicorns kept making me laugh.

I thought the big reveal came a little fast, especially with what happened afterwards. There’s certainly a lot of room for going even deeper into Rithmatics in future books—and there had better be a sequel with the way it ended. I’m particularly interested to see if anyone makes the connection between the chalkings that attacked the students and the chalkings at the Tower of Nebrask, and what that means about Nebrask.

Overall, this is a book I couldn’t stop reading, and I can’t wait for future installments. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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