Book Review: The Rithmatist

Continuing in my attempts to get my blogging up to date, I have another book review, this time from a book I finished back in May.  It wasn’t a long read – it is a book written for a younger audience – but at this point I am pretty much willing to try any book by Brandon Sanderson, even if it is written for kids.  So when The Rithmatist came out it immediately jumped to the top of my to-read list.

The Rithmatist is the story of Joel, a young boy who attends a school that trains Rithmatists, the people who learn the chalk-based magic system of this world.  Joel himself lacks the ability to perform these magical feats, and is able to attend the school only because his mother works on the janitorial staff.  However, his interest in the subject of Rithmatics makes him one of the most knowledgeable students at the school.  He must use his knowledge, and the skills of his Rithmatist friends to help solve the mystery of the missing students of the school.

The world is a steam-punk-esque version of the United States, except that the country is actually made of a collection of Islands, connected by a vast train system.

I really love the world and magic system created by Brandon Sanderson in this story.  As someone who often visits Nebraska, I can’t help but think of it now as the “Wilds of Nebrask” and in my head during my journey through Arizona I couldn’t help but think of it as “Zona Arida.”  The magic system is fascinating – based on two-dimensional drawings made of chalk it is both very simple to understand, but also interestingly complex.  There is a wonderful mathematical quality about the magic that I really enjoyed.  However, the ability to draw free-form creatures also appeals to the my more artistic side.  I really enjoyed that there was information and drawings in between each chapter that explained the magic system in more detail – it allows the reader to understand it in greater detail without long explanations bogging down the actual flow of the story.  My favorite part of this book is definitely the system of magic that Brandon Sanderson has created.

The actual plot of the story is fine, but I was a bit disappointed by the characters.  Granted, this is a children’s book, so I don’t expect the layers and depth that I would from one of his adult novels.  However, I sort of felt like a lot of these characters were watered down versions of the characters from the Alcatraz stories.  While Joel is definitely a very different character from Alcatraz, it sort of feels like Melody (the female Rithmatist counterpart to Joel) is a more annoying but far less kick-ass version of Bastille.  I felt that the characters lacked a bit of dimension, and I wasn’t necessarily a fan of sitting through all of Melody’s whining.  Girl, you can do magic!  Suck it up and practice already.  And while I understand that this story is being told from the young male perspective, I feel like the female characters are portrayed as being far more incomprehensible than young girls actually are.  Though, to be fair, I did find a lot of the other girls in my class to be quite incomprehensible when I was that age, so, ummm, maybe Brandon Sanderson isn’t so off the mark there.

All in all I enjoyed the magic system and world Brandon Sanderson has created, but I wasn’t particularly inspired by the story or the characters.  I feel like fans of Brandon’s other works would enjoy reading this book, and I also think it would be a great book for younger readers.  However, I don’t know that I would recommend this book to the more general adult audience.  It was a fun, quick read, but it lacked a lot of the depth and richness I have been enjoying in a lot of the other books I have been reading lately.  I don’t regret reading it – and, let’s be honest, as a Brandon Sanderson fan I am sure I will read the next installment when it comes out – but I think that there are a lot of other books that he has written that would be better enjoyed by a more mature audience (The Mistborn series is still my favorite).  A fun read, and nice as light entertainment between more weighty books, but not necessarily a story I will want to re-read in the future.

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