{book} the rithmatist

rithmatist coverThe Rithmatist (bk 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Illustrations by Ben McSweeney

Tor, 2013

hardcover, 370 pages. SFF, ages 12 & up.

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. (Jacket Copy)

I know I will no longer look at the chalk art paving a good quarter of our summer evening walks the same again. Thanks for that Mr. Sanderson. Flayed bodies and ingested eyeballs… Of course, The Rithmatist is just a fantasy fiction, I’m just still a bit caught up in it is all. The novel is set in 1908 (?) and the United States are the United Isles (see one of Ben McSweeney’s wonderfully helpful illustrations below). There are “gearpunk” technologies, and somewhat altered histories…like the existence of Chalklings and the rise of a chose group of humans imbued with a special abilities to counter them using their own “magic:” Rithmatists. Sanderson translates his strange imagination well. And he has created a very capable character/guide in Joel who is obsessed with Rithmatics.


Aged 16, Joel attends a private and prestigious Armedius Academy in New Brittania, one of 8 schools for Rithmatists, but he isn’t there to study with the guarded and private group. He is in the general education section, and only because his acceptance had been finessed by his late father, the Academy’s chalkmaker, and his still living and overworked mother who is a cleaning lady on the grounds. Not only denied an opportunity to be selected as a Rithmatist and kept separate from their society, he is also incredibly poor and held apart from the more elite of his fellow students. This stings; yet it is especially hard for Joel to have so much passion and knowledge about Rithmatics and not have been “incepted,” chosen, it is insult to injury when disallowed the opportunity to learn alongside them. Especially when he finds himself in the company of loud and provocative Melody, a Rithmatist who is resistant to her calling (she has her reasons).

Melody is a live-wire. She brings out some of the best and worst in Joel. Another great source of exchange with Joel is Professor Fitch (who was voiced by Jim Broadbent in my brain throughout). These are the type of characters who move stories and grow our protagonist with the kind of heart and humor I look forward to in a work. The most sinister goings on are also quite satisfying. Like Joel (and even Melody), I found myself conflicted, the crime, the adventure of it is exciting, I shouldn’t wish for more… Sanderson can be chilling.

Sanderson plays a light but deft hand in building a world and its fascinations (characters, places, politics, histories, religions, peculiarities and gear-works), as well in garnering my interest and comprehension despite topics that sound suspiciously belonging of geometry (maybe calculus, but I couldn’t identify that when, how would I now?). The story moves and while I appreciated the first two Parts allowing me 100 pages stretches after which I could mind dinner or the late hour, I was always happy to return. The Rithmatist was able to surprise and delight me and I looked forward to the “what next”…still looking forward to it, actually.

I look forward to the next installment, but I would hate to leave the impression that this is one of those Teaser Book One’s that fulfill none of their promising threads. The disappearances? there is a resolution there, and Joel is at a place of satisfactory progress (as well as Melody and Fitch).


a few things in particular that I appreciated: The illustrations that accompany every chapter and within adding that visual dimension to the lessons on rithmatics; the unicorns are incredibly entertaining. I appreciate the inclusion of the guts and arrogance of youth as well as the affection with which adults are drawn. Sanderson is also very good with intrigue, teasing out a curiosity as to what he will do with allusions to other places and potential events while maintaining a very engrossing present. He is also very good with horror, so much so I really wanted a bit more of that; except I didn’t, if you know what I mean…

If you can’t tell: I do recommend Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist.

recommendations: boys & girls, 12 & up. Interest in Fantasy or Sci-Fi unnecessary: good characters, a taste of the historical, and good adventure (to include creepy villainy) will go far with less avid readers of the genres. I think many Harry Potter fans will be so pleased to find The Rithmatist, but I do not want to mistake any similarities beyond: brilliant characters, highly imaginative worlds, and the exhilaration and enchantment that keeps the pages turning, only to later fluster, suddenly realizing you will have to wait (until 2015) for the sequel (even if Sean refuses to sympathize because Sanderson should dedicate his precious time to another Way of Kings installment!). Joel and company are very much their own, and attempts to clone primary characters or plot turns  from HP will be frustrated, or maybe used against you quite deliciously.

{images belong to Ben McSweeney}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

9 thoughts on “{book} the rithmatist

    1. I’m like that, and then when I finally get to it I’m like “why did I not read/listen to this one sooner?” When you do, I hope you enjoy.

  1. I’ve wanted to try some of Sanderson’s YA, particularly the Alcatraz books, but I never have. This is another one that caught my eye early on and I discarded, but now, after the review, I’m thinking maybe it’ll somehow find its way back on my list.

    And that map of the US islands(?). Sanderson’s worldbuilding is always fun, I’m interested to see an alt-history.

    1. I intended to attempt the Alcatraz books, too. I really need to catch up with everyone else on his grown-up people books. N has read the Mistborn trilogy at least twice and the third book even more…

      It should be a quick and easy read for you, and I think the world-building, the way he plays with the familiar while introducing the familiar–that balance–so accessible and I was seriously impressed, because I needed something I didn’t have too work too hard for.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this for a very, very long time. I’ve read the first two installments of the Mistborn trilogy, and they were fantastic. Such skillful world-building. And the characters he creates are among my favourites.

  3. I bought this when it first came out but haven’t gotten to it to this point. I have heard mixed reviews although none particularly bad. I think there is some feeling that it does feel more like a beginning so I’m happy to read that you felt it had a little more of a complete story than that despite the fact that it is just the first.

    1. It is very much a beginning book. He establishes a great deal for what promises to be some exciting adventures and relationship in the future. And the resolution to a primary mystery is complicated rather nicely. It feels different to my mind of late (with YA series in particular) in that I am eager to see what is next, but satisfied enough into being able to wait and enjoy the anticipation..I do not feel the wanting of better characterization or better world/society-structuring or whatever else Book One’s often sacrifice for the sake of a series rather than writing just one good lengthy novel.— yikes, does that sound like the beginning of a tangent? 🙂

  4. Interesting to hear your thoughts on this book. I was one of those mixed people. It didn’t grab me at all like his other books, but at the same time I appreciated the characters and creativity.

    1. I will, hopefully this year, have another of his books with which to compare my experience with The Rithmatist. I tried to get N to read it for a comparison for me, but school started and the Library wanted its book back….

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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