by Brandon Sanderson
Cover Artist: Map and interior illustrations by Ben McSweeney
Review by Gayle Surrette
Tor Teen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320322
Date: 14 May 2013 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
What Brandon Sanderson has created in The Rithmatist is a cohesive world populated with believable characters -- young and old. It's not our world but does have many of the trappings of our world. There are trains, but they are run by winding them up. There's lights, but not run with the same technology we have. There exists an America made up of islands, a Europe, and an Asia -- the names and land masses those name represent are not the same but they should be recognizable to readers. So, the world is like but is not our own.
Joel is a student at Armedius Academy. Armedius teaches common students as well as those who will become full-fledged Rithmatists and go on to fight in the war against the Wild Chalkings in the territory of Nebrask. Joel is a common student who lives on campus. His father, before his death, had been a chalkmaker at the school and his mother still works there as a cleaning lady. Joel was given a scholarship to the school because of his father's work. More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist, but only one in a thousand are chosen when presented during a ceremony in July of their eighth year. Joel's father died that year and he missed his chance. So Joel watches and listens in on Rithmatic lectures as often as he can while reading any Rithmancy book that is available to him as an non-Rithmatist.
As you'd expect, the students of Rithmancy don't mingle with the common students very much and friendships are seldom forged with common students, unless that common student has connections that might be useful to a Rithmatist in the future. So, when Melody, one of the Rithmatist students -- the only one that Joel knew of that did not want to be a Rithmatist -- and Joel worked with one of the school professors, they began to talk to each other and found themselves liking and trusting each other.
Meanwhile, something is happening at Armedius Academy, some of the students studying Rithmancy are disappearing while off campus. Strange unknown glyphs were at the scenes of the disappearances. The Rithmatists don't know what the symbols do or even if they are working chalkings.
Joel had his own ideas about what was going on. Soon Melody is involved and between the two of them they had the skills to find out things the soldiers and the investigator wouldn't think to look into.
The book is illustrated with examples of the most famous Rithmatic defense drawings. It seems that not only is Rithmancy part magic but it is also very much related to geometry and trigonometry -- yes, math can save your life.
The story is compelling and the main characters of Joel and Melody are ones that we can relate to -- even their wishes, desires, hopes, and dreams ring true. The school campus with its cliques, bullies, homework, professors who think they're the only ones giving homework so no excuses for not doing it, and the dread of an hour with the professor who drones on and on and on -- will ring true to all who are in school now or have been at one time in their lives.
While The Rithmatist is marketed for teen and young adults, I believe that it would be of interest to readers of all ages. Only the age of the main characters makes this a young adult story, for the problems and issues are germane to humans of all ages.