The Rithmatist - Brandon Sanderson From The BiblioSanctum.

Huge fan of Brandon Sanderson here, which is why I was all over this book even though I knew it would take place outside of his Cosmere universe and be a little different from his usual epics. I admit I was mostly curious as to what reading a young adult fantasy novel by him would feel like, since I've never read any of his Alcatraz series books for teens.

On the surface, it didn't feel too different, thanks to Sanderson's unique brand of world-building and magic system creation. The Rithmatist is about 16-year-old Joel Saxon who goes to school at the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of just a handful of Rithmatist schools in the United Isles of America. He is somewhat of an outsider at the school; unlike a lot of his fellow students who are the sons and daughters of politicians, the rich, or other people of influence, his mother is a cleaning lady at the academy, and his father, who died eight years ago in a springrail accident, was its resident chalkmaker. Neither is Joel a Rithmatist, though he desperately wishes to be one.

Rithmatists are a chosen group of magic users who can make chalk-drawn lines, circles and figures called Chalklings come to life and take on unique properties. They are trained at schools like Armedius, then sent on to the wilds of Nebrask where they defend humanity against hordes of dangerous and blood thirsty Wild Chalklings that threaten to overrun the territory. When several Rithmatists students go missing, Joel is assigned to be an assistant to Professor Fitch, the Rithmatist expert tasked to investigate the disappearances.

My first thought while reading this was that the writing is less subtle than I'm used to when reading Sanderson's adult books. Instead of the letting details of the magic system trickle through as you make your way through the plot, there were a couple of pretty big info dumps near the beginning where one character explains Rithmatics to another.

Even then, I didn't find the magic system or the world building to be as robust as it could be, though of course I'm not expecting Sanderson to go on in detail about such things in a young adult novel compared to the the way he does it in a 1000+ page fantasy epic. Still, I found myself asking a lot of questions about Rithmatics; it just felt like a magic system I could poke a lot of holes in without thinking too hard about it.

Rithmatics by itself sounds like a lot of fun, though. Is there something wrong with me that when I think about Rithmatist battles with their defense strategies and Chalklings, my mind immediately went to Pokemon? Or, okay, let's say Magic: The Gathering, or Starcraft, or really any kind of game which involves a fundamental set of rules, strategic gameplay, a combination of chance and skill, and limits that force a player to think quickly and creatively when trying to defeat their opponent.

For Rithmatists, the decision comes down to whether to spend the time drawing a strong defense, or mounting a fast and powerful offense. Despite my skepticism, it really is quite cool. The technical aspects like circles, lines, and ratios didn't interest me so much, but the idea of Chalklings attracted me more speaking from an artist's point of view, since I suspect passion and talent for drawing Chalkings will end up playing into their effectiveness. Obviously, I'm looking forward to seeing more on Chalking theory. Also, I have to mention I really liked the art and diagrams which preceded each new chapter in this book.

Basically, as YA fiction goes, this was amazing. It's like Brandon Sanderson took the crash course on how to write a good YA novel and threw in the works, complete with the teenage protagonist attending a school of magic in an alternate-reality-steampunky kind of world (with a whacked-out archipelago version of the United States and a Europe that has been taken over by invaders from Asia called the JoSeun).

There are even wonky things happening in this book like the lead investigator of a murder case simply taking a 16-year-old at his word, and of course the requisite potential for a romance along with the feel-good Karate Kid-like ending. Still, I loved it all. The last chapter and final scene was just so great, and I'm glad to see there will be future books in this series. Sanderson's flair for fantasy and writing about magic is as usual unparalleled and something you absolutely won't find anywhere else.