There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
Big Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
I have oddly mixed feelings about books by Brandon Sanderson. On one hand, I loved Way of Kings. Loved, loved, loved it. Enough to buy a second copy when I forgot to bring the copy I already owned to the book signing I attended. I think it comes a close second in my affections to Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind.
I really enjoyed Elantris as well.
But then I just can’t summon any enthusiasm for the Mistborn books. I feel like I should. They seem like they should be exactly my cup of tea and there’s nothing wrong with the writing. I just didn’t enjoy them.
When The Rithmatist came into the store, I had a little look at it and got pretty excited (and then frustrated that I couldn’t actually buy it!) so I was thrilled when Orion Children’s Books offered free copies for reviewers. Thanks Orion!
The Rithmatist is a teen fantasy novel about a world a little left of ours. The map and territories are slightly different and the front line of a war against the supernatural is happening in Nebrask(a?). The soldiers aren’t really soldiers, they’re ordinary humans, Rithmatists, with the ability to use chalk and geometry to create defensive barriers and offensive lines and creatures, or chalklings.
Joel lives at Armedius Academy, where they train Rithmatic and regular students. He is fascinated by the history and practice of Rithmatics and longs to be a Rithmatist himself. When Armedius Academy receives a new teacher and students begin to mysteriously disappear, it looks like Joel (with a little help from the worst Rithmatic student in the school, Melody) might get the chance to prove himself as the hero he has always wanted to be.
What I liked:
Boy, is Brandon Sanderson good at world building! He seems to effortlessly (I’m pretty sure it’s not actually effortless) create these fully-realised, well fleshed-out story worlds. The world of this story, despite being something I would never have thought up, was one that I had no trouble believing in. There were a lot of clever underlying touches to bring it to life and I can’t wait to read the next story set here for more about what’s going on.
I think part of it is that the magic of Brandon Sanderson’s stories always makes sense. You can tell that he’s thought about how it works and built that in to the story. When you’re reading something all about a magical system, it’s important that it doesn’t feel like it is being made up by the author as they go along (like, ahem, in Harry Potter).
I think that if I lived in this world, I would probably be as fascinated by Rithmatics and how a person becomes a Rithmatist as Joel is.
I liked Joel, Melody and Professor Fitch and I thought that the mystery was pretty good, with enough red herrings to keep you guessing a little bit. I also felt that, although this book had its own plot, the overarching series plot was good too. I can’t wait to read the next book and find out what exactly is going to happen to Joel as a non-Rithmatist and Melody as someone who dreads being sent to the front lines.
I also really liked the presentation of the book, with illustrations around each chapter number and Rithmatic diagrams between chapters. The diagrams also worked well to cut down some of the exposition.
What I disliked:
I really felt that this book ended just as it started to get really good. The first half of the book was good but the second half was better and the final chapter was completely brilliant. It wasn’t even that there was an irritating cliffhanger, it was more that I feel that I got much more invested in the characters just as my time with them came to an end. Grr.
Also, for quite a large portion of the book, I felt like Joel was a bit of a jerk. He got over it but I still spent more time disliking him than I did liking him. If you’re reading it, stick with it. He gets better.
I’d recommend this book to teens (and adults!) who enjoy fantasy. It wasn’t perfect but it was definitely good. I have high hopes for the next book, which is probably going to be incredible.