Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1)
By Brandon Sanderson
Tor Teen

To Sum It Up: All Joel has ever wanted is to be a Rithmatist—a member of an elite group who can bring chalk drawings to life. His dream appears to be out of reach, though, because Rithmatists are chosen at an early age, and Joel was not selected. He is one of the normal students at Armedius Academy, which also provides its Rithmatist students with a specialized education. Not being a Rithmatist doesn’t discourage Joel from learning as much as he can about the subject, and his extensive knowledge becomes vital to solving the mystery behind the disappearances of some of the school’s pupils.

Review: As a huge fantasy fan, I’d wanted to check out Brandon Sanderson’s books for a long time (and I WILL read you one day, Mistborn trilogy! I promise.). I was thrilled to spot The Rithmatist at my library and immediately grabbed it off the shelf. My anticipation may have been set a little too high for this because although I enjoyed it and was awed by the intricacy of Sanderson’s renowned world-building, I still felt slightly underwhelmed.

The Rithmatist takes place in a steampunk-esque world filled with all sorts of spring and clockwork powered devices. Even the coins have tiny gears in them. The Rithmatists are individuals who possess the ability to give life to the chalk lines they draw. They sometimes compete against one another in duels, but a Rithmatist’s life isn’t just about besting another Rithmatist in a contest. Normally, chalklings, the two-dimensional drawings that are kind of like little chalkboard game pieces, can’t harm people, but there are wild chalklings that can and do. Every Rithmatist must serve a required number of years containing the wild chalklings in the territory known as Nebrask. The plot of the book centers around what happens when it appears that the wild chalklings have broken through the Rithmatists’ defenses in Nebrask and are attacking students at Armedius Academy.

The novel spends a lot of time fleshing out the principles of Rithmatics, and while I appreciated this, I also found it very tedious at times. Your enjoyment of this book probably depends on how interesting you find reading many paragraphs about lines, circles, defensive patterns, and more lines. Explanations can get quite technical (at least they were to me), and I was grateful for the accompanying illustrations that helped me visualize some of the text. Otherwise, I would have been pretty lost every time a defense was mentioned. This is a world in which Leonardo da Vinci and Euclid are regarded as religious figures; if the prospect of encountering a reference to the altitude of a triangle outside of a math book doesn’t appeal to you, then this might not be the novel for you. I still have mixed feelings toward the concept of Rithmatics. There’s no doubt that it’s unique and extremely creative, but I sometimes struggled to find reading about chalk drawings battling each other utterly compelling.

What also made Rithmatics a tough sell for me was how obsessed Joel, the protagonist, was with the subject. It’s his entire life, even though he isn’t a Rithmatist himself. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite share Joel’s ardor for analyzing chalk line widths and the various defenses, and having that much Rithmatics theory in my face, especially in the beginning chapters, was rather stifling.

Melody, Joel’s friend and classmate, was a much easier character for me to relate to. She's a Rithmatist, but her enthusiasm is nowhere near the level of Joel’s. Melody excels at drawing chalklings, but she struggles with the lines and circles. She’s assigned to remedial study with Professor Fitch, the only teacher at Armedius who let Joel sit in on his Rithmatics lectures, and she’s not too thrilled. I think I connected with Melody more than with Joel because she just doesn’t get what all the fuss is about Rithmatics, even though she comes from a whole family of Rithmatists. She’d rather sketch regular drawings than practice tracing circles for hours. I also liked how feisty she could be. Professor Fitch was also a character whom I ended up rooting for. He’s more of a mild-mannered scholar than a fear-inducing fighter, so when he kicked some major ass later on in the book, I was happy for him.

I wasn’t sure what my final opinion of this was going to be because the first 100 pages or so didn’t really pull me in. As the investigation into the kidnappings of some Armedius students went on, though, I become more engrossed in the story. Seeing the wild chalklings in action was a HUGE difference from just hearing about how dangerous they were. These things eat human skin! Ewww. It wasn’t just getting a firsthand look at the wild chalklings that suddenly made this un-put-down-able, either. There’s a duel early on in the book, but it’s nothing compared to an all-out melee. Finally, all of the Rithmatic stuff that Joel kept talking about literally came into play, and for the first time, I could understand his love for it. I’m not saying that I now love Rithmatics, too, but I definitely saw it in a new light.

The last third of The Rithmatist and the exciting conclusion really turned this around for me. My interest in the sequel has certainly been piqued, and that’s not something I thought I’d say based on my initial feelings toward the book. It won me over enough, though, for me to continue with the series.

All in All: It took me quite a while to get into this world, and you can expect to read a lot about lines and circles. I really did like the mystery element, though, and when the action kicked in, it was thrilling.


  1. He has this other series (forgot the name) that I want to read. Its more UF Sci-fi. Ive tried him before when he finished wheel of time and I like his voice.

    1. Is it Steelheart? I've been seeing some rave reviews for that. I'd like to start Wheel of Time one day, but Mistborn is definitely going to be my next epic fantasy series.

    2. Mistborn is fantastic! Haven't made it any further in the series yet though...his books are enormous! He's my daughter's favorite author, she devours his books.

    3. I'm a bit intimidated by the size of the books in the trilogy, lol. I really do want to read them, though, and just have to set my mind to it.

  2. Well, firstly, I'm sorry your initial experience with Sanderson didn't quite meet your expectations. But I am glad you'll still be reading Mistborn (eventually hehe) ♥.

    I still haven't read The Rithmatist myself but I agree with you that the chalkings do sound terribly technical. Kind of reminds me a bit too much of mathematics O.O Out of Sanderson's two new releases this year, this one seems to be getting the least amount of buzz...maybe what you mention here are part of the reason why. I'll be reading Steelheart first (since I didn't miss the release for that one yet) but I plan on reading Rithmatist soon after so I'll let you know how they compare :)

    But, I AM glad that it won you over in the end, for the most part. Your review made me more prepared for when I do read it - so if the beginning confuses or underwhelms, I'll know that it gets better :) Thanks for the lovely review Lee!

    1. I'm really curious to see what you think of this, especially since you've read his work before. I really appreciated that so much thought was put into acquainting the reader with this world, but sometimes the explanations were so intricate, they felt like overkill. I have to say that I skimmed some of the more technical discussions because they just weren't sinking into my brain, which stopped processing any complex talk of math the moment I was finished with school, lol.

  3. great review, Lee! I read this around the same time, and I can't wait for the sequel. I didn't mind the technical side of the chalklings much and I'd recommend Mistborn too :).

    1. I can't wait to finally read Mistborn because I feel like I'm really missing out by not having read it yet. I also really want to read Steelheart- been hearing so many great things about that one, too!


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