The Rithmatist – by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson remains one of my favourite fantasy authors. His work is consistent, detailed, and engrossing. Here’s what I thought of his latest offering, his first young adult novel, The Rithmatist:
Joel knows not everyone can be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are those chosen to defend the American Isles against the chalklings: two-dimensional chalk drawings, somehow infused with life – and with the ability to kill. But the fact that Joel isn’t one of the lucky few cannot curb his fascination with their arts. He knows more than almost any non-Rithmatist about the subtle battle techniques, defensive diagrams, and offensive chalklings that form the basis of the Rithmatist’s craft. And when Rithmatic students start to go missing from Armedius Academy, Joel might be the only one with the right combination of knowledge and perspective (as well as a healthy dose of recklessness) to be able to get to the bottom of it.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Sanderson’s wonderfully complex and meticulously designed magical systems are one of the best things about his work. The Rithmatist is no exception to this. The art of Rithmancy is an improbable struggle between chalk figures – defensive circles that prevent the Rithmatist being hit, and offensive chalk creatures that work to claw through their opponent’s defence. As odd as it sounds, when you’re reading about it in the context of Sanderson’s world, it makes perfect sense.
There’s a delicate balance that good writers find, somewhere between over- and under-explaining. Sanderson dances this line perfectly – using exposition sparingly, in a way that doesn’t feel jarring. A lot of what we know about the world isn’t made explicit, we’re introduced to what our characters know. I enjoy this writing style: treating the reader as intelligent enough to glean what they need to know, explaining the crucial aspects, and not belabouring the superfluous detail. Garth Nix is my other go-to in this regard, and also one of my favourite authors!
Joel is an excellent protagonist – curious, a little headstrong, completely determined to get to the bottom of the goings-on. I enjoyed the rest of the cast too – the older, mentor figure, the close friend/maybe-sort-of-one-day love interest, the bit players and the authority figures. They all played their parts admirably.
I really appreciate Brandon Sanderson’s work, and have been a fan for years. With The Rithmatist, Sanderson will be able to tap into a slightly younger audience, who will then no doubt go straight for Mistborn and devour that too. The best part about this new novel, though, is that it stands up as an adult novel too: there’s no compromise on the authenticity and intricacies of Sanderson’s storytelling.
A great yarn, and a perfect starter book for the curious.
Note: I tried this novel on audiobook before buying the print version. I can’t recommend the audiobook in this case. Some of the reader’s understanding of Sanderson’s magic relies on diagrams included in the book. Give it a go, but I heartily recommend the print book here!