Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)

The Rithmatist
Brandon Sanderson
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: In the United Isles of America, only Rithmatists stand between human civilization and the destruction wrought by wild chalklings, two-diminsional creatures capable of rending living flesh. Blessed by the Maker Himself with the ability to infuse chalk lines with power, these elite warriors are apart from and above the common folk... and, more than anything, Joel longs to be one. But Rithmatists are chosen at age eight, and at sixteen he's too old to ever be more than a powerless theorist - little better than his late father, a chalkmaker, whose obsession with Rithmatics plunged the family deep into debt. Living at the Armedius Academy in New Brittania, rubbing shoulders daily with those who hardly seem to care how they've been gifted with an opportunity he'd do anything for, doesn't help. Instead of focusing on his own studies, he finagles ways to sit in on Rithmatics lessons with old Professor Fitch... so Joel is there the day the new Professor Nalizar, a young man fresh from the Nebrask battle lines, comes to challenge Fitch for his red coat of tenure. With Nalizar come dark days at Armedius. Rithmatist students begin disappearing, leaving nothing but a few drops of blood and fragmented chalk lines that look for all the world like wild chalkling attacks. But those beasts are confined to the isle of Nebrask, nowhere near New Britannia... or are they? As Joel digs deeper, he unearths a mystery with roots deep in the origins of Rithmatics - and a danger older than the United Isles themselves.

REVIEW: It's been a while since I devoured a book like I did The Rithmatist. Sanderson sets up a great world, a fragmented "gearpunk" alternate history that re-imagines not only North America but the whole early 20th century, as well as an interesting magic system that's as much about mathematics as it is power, even as it sets up political, religious, and cultural tensions. Joel makes for a clever, driven protagonist, but he's not without his blind spots and flaws. As a sidekick, he picks up Melody, a girl who represents many things Joel wants - particularly wealth and the Rithmatic ability - alongside a melodramatic streak. The two hardly hit it off as quickly as many young adult heroes, but they make a decently balanced team. A host of other characters turn up, many of them adults, but none of them deliberately obtuse or as foolish as grown-ups can be in novels with underage main characters. Joel doesn't get things right all the time, and he makes some serious missteps in his pursuit of the abductor's identity and ultimate plot. Along the way, naturally, he does some much-needed growing up. The story ticks along like a well-wound clock, building to a tense climax with an interesting, unexpected twist. There's every indication of at least one more book in the series, and some of the ideas almost needed more exploration, though most of the tale is resolved here. Given how it pulled me in to a day-long reading binge (even keeping me up late on a work night), and the overall imagination level, I give it top marks.

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Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
The Paper Magician (Charlie N. Holmberg) - My Review
The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review

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