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The Rithmatist Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-The idea that evil chalk drawings pose a threat to humanity quite frankly sounds silly. Add in the none-too-subtle Harry Potter parallels and you have the makings of literary mediocrity. And yet Sanderson has crafted an action-packed mystery that will keep readers hooked, especially toward the end. Joel is an underachieving, charity-case student at the elite Ardemius Academy where his mother is a cleaning lady and his late father made chalk for Rithmatists. In the hands of a Rithmatist, chalk is a weapon keeping North America safe from wild "chalklings," two-dimensional beasts of unknown origins. Only one in 1000 people possess Rithmatic abilities. Much to Joel's chagrin, he is not one of them. But when Rithmatic students begin disappearing, Joel gets a chance to help in the investigation, and maybe get another shot at becoming one of the elite. Part fantasy, part alternate history, part steampunk, this story succeeds nicely despite some flaws (logical inconsistencies and an annoying female lead foremost among them). An exciting ending and skillful setup for a sequel will have readers hungry for the next volume.-Anthony C. Doyle, Livingston High School Library, CAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Joel longs to be a Rithmatist with the magical power to bring two-dimensional objects, called Chalklings, to life. But he is 16, and Rithmatists are chosen at age 8. Surely he has missed his chance, or has he? When Rithmatists-in-training at the prestigious Armedius Academy begin to go missing, Joel—a scholarship student there—determines to find out what has happened to them. Could it possibly have something to do with the Wild Chalklings of the Nebrask territory? Could his success or failure determine the fate of the American Isles? And, for that matter, could he become a Rithmatist, after all? So many questions and so few answers in this spoiler-free review. Suffice it to say that with an intriguing premise and captivating characters in Joel, his friend Melody, and their teacher Professor Fitch, Sanderson’s first YA novel is a fast-paced mash-up of fantasy and adventure that will grab readers’ attention at the first page and hold it until the inconclusive end, which promises a sequel. An auspicious YA debut that will leave readers hungry for further adventures of the aspiring Rithmatist and his friends. Grades 6-12. --Michael Cart
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Top Customer Reviews
As the parent who was always on the lookout for good books, I appreciated reviews that helped me choose what to order. This is written with an eye to helping other parents. No spoilers.
The Rithmatist is about a young man, Joel, who is attending an exclusive school that trains both Rithmatist and non-Rithmatist students. Rithmatists have the ability to bring chalk drawings, called chalkings, to life, and to use symbols in chalk for defensive and offensive purposes. Joel is not a Rithmatist, although he yearns to be one and is trying to learn as much about the subject as possible. His father was a chalkmaker, but died 8 years earlier, and his mother works as a cleaning woman at night while Joel attends the school on a scholarship. He is a very smart, but only applies himself to those subjects that interest him. When Rithmatist students begin disappearing, Joel is assigned as a summerschool aide to a Rithmatist professor, and he becomes involved in the professor's investigation, along with another Rithmatist student, Melody.
From a parent's point of view, this is a good choice. It has no foul language or sexual situations of any sort. There is some violence, but it is generally not seen as it happens 'off stage.' And, the violence is of an otherworldly type and not something a child could ever experience or likely to cause nightmares.
I liked the way that Sanderson put moral lessons in the book, although it is not preachy at all. It is very positive for young people, and provides good opportunities for parents to discuss several issues with their children. For example, at one point a professor points out to the young hero, who has failed at least one class a year due to lack of interest in the subject, that "school is about learning to learn. If you don't practice studying things you don't like, then you'll have a very hard time in life."
The issue of bullying is touched on, as is the feelings of being left out of social activities and the popular cliques. Joel makes several discoveries about himself, and we see characters, child and adult, gaining confidence in themselves. My favorite passage is when the older professor encourages Joel to consider the man he wishes to become, and warns of what to avoid along the path of life.
The characters are done very well, but I expected this from the author who wrote the Mistborn series, one of the very best books/series I have ever read. The major characters have distinct voices and traits, and act according to how you would expect, based on those traits- nothing odd or out of character. I think young readers could readily identify with Joel, although Melody is rather whiny and spoiled, and she is very close to being annoying. She does, however, grow and change.
The adults are adults, and are not portrayed as being inept or stupid- something that bothers me, whether it be in literature, movies, or TV. It is a YA book, so of course the hero saves the day. But, the younger characters show respect for the adults and look to them for guidance. Joel loves his mother and wishes a better life for her, and he comes to realize the sacrifices she is making. A male is the hero and focus of the story, but I think both boys and girls will enjoy the book. Melody is not very likable at first, but, as I mentioned, she does grow and gain confidence as the story goes on. So, there are good role models for both female and male young readers to identify with, particularly since the characters are not perfect.
The magic system is interesting, and Sanderson includes quite a bit of explanation, mainly in the form of drawings and notations at the beginning of every chapter. There are also small drawings scattered throughout the text, something readers of any age will certainly enjoy. It is based on chalk drawings, and I'm not sure how a 2D drawing is supposed to be able to injure a person, but this is fantasy, so you just have to ignore that little problem.
The setting is an alternate version of our own world, with the United Isles of America, and other half-way recognizable countries and states. There are some names from history mentioned, too, which adds to the alternate history feel of the story. There's enough history of the conflict and crisis with the wild chalkings for the reader to understand the pressure on the Rithmatists, but the story does not dwell on it.
There are religious elements in the story, and although I found it confusing, religion did not play a large role. Perhaps it will be more important in the sequel. At any rate, you can read and enjoy the book without giving any thought to the religious part.
It is a steam punk world (check out the horse on the cover!) and I wish more had been made of it since Sanderson made a very interesting one, indeed. No gas-powered vehicles- everything works by coiled springs wound tightly, even the mechanical crabs scuttling about clipping grass. If there's a sequel, I'm hoping there will be more of the technology. Other than that, this could take place at any boarding school, be it in a fantasy world or ours- it will seem familiar and not overly strange to any reader.
The story is interesting, but if you are looking for a story with lots of action and excitement you might be disappointed. It is slow during the first half of the book. Much time is spent on how Joel fervently desires to be a Rithmatist, how his situation is a sad one, and how there is a separation amongst the students. I thought this should have been covered in much less space. There are the disappearances, eventually, but they are off-stage. As I read I kept thinking that younger readers might grow bored. It does get better, but it takes a while.
The ending is exciting, and there is a nice setup for a sequel. Even so, this book can stand alone since it does have a problem to be solved and it is wrapped up well.
Targeted for ages 13 and up, I think even younger children could read this without difficulty, if they did not get bored when the story drags a bit and quit. Teens (and adults) who enjoy a more thoughtful fantasy will enjoy it, too.
The use of geometry/math as a power was rather ingenious. Love it. And I was quite intrigued by the symbolism I saw in this story. Whether the writer intended this or not is completely irrelevant. As a reader, being able to bring that kind of thought process to the table is so much fun and what makes any story truly great. And a writer who can facilitate that is amazing—right up there with Tolkien and others. I don't know if a sequel to this is planned or not, but I would love to see where he takes this story.
I was very much like Joel in high school and college; kind of shiftless, aimless, and couldn't see where it all lead. Also like Joel, I got a swift kick in the pants just barely in time to turn things around. My swift kick and turn around were no where near as traumatic and exciting as Joel's!
I am a fan of a couple of Brandon Sanderson's series and was happy to stumble across a book I was not familiar with. I am also a fan of good YA science fiction and fantasy even though I am old enough to have a teenager who is the target market for it.
In this day and age it is difficult to come up with a "magic" system that hasn't been done countless times before without it being something a little ridiculous. Sanderson has done it several times in his career quite successfully. The character definition isn't deep or lengthy, which is good in a YA fantasy as most teens don't want to spend the time on the minute details developing a fully fleshed out character description. This doesn't mean his characters are shallow or ill-defined. On the contrary, you get the feeling that they are complete characters, it's just not spelled out for you and you get to learn about them as the story progresses, just like you learn about people in real life. Sanderson has not introduced an entire army of characters just to confuse the plot. He is like a good stage magician, he tricks you in plain sight while you are carefully watching his hands move the cards.
This biggest disappointment for me is that I discovered this book before he had written several sequels so I could read them all at once. Now I'll have to wait impatiently for the next one. At least "Shadows of Self" was just released so I can read some new Sanderson :-)
I think the YA voice sounded fairly authentic. You will be astounded by the fantasy world he created (and wish you had thought of it first).
A Rithmatist is a person whose chalk lines can be animated. The story is set in a school for these magicians who train to fight wild chalklings. The hero is a 16-year-old boy who wishes he was a Rithmatist and he is paired with a rithmatic girl who hates being a rithmatist. The plot is simple and yet complicated by the mystery investigation.
Considering the age of the protagonist, I would have thought this book would be more suited for high school students. However, something about the relationship between the characters and the scope of the mystery makes me think middle school kids would enjoy it just as much.
Since it ends with "to be continued" I assume it is the first of yet another series of books by Sanderson. Read it. If you're like me and can't draw a straight line to save your life, you'll be happy we live in our world where such a skill isn't required for survival.