Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Posted by Nathan Major on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 2:20 PM
I made a comment after finishing the book that The Rithmatist is what happens when Brandon:
- Read Harry Potter
- Read The Name of the Wind
- Played a bunch of Starcraft 2
- Attended a college geometry class
- Had some fever dream, and thus The Rithmatist was born
If any of those things sound appealing to you, you might as well give the book a shot, because it's a pretty good one.
The premise is simple: there's a world that I'm pretty sure is Steampunk (it is only mentioned once, and it's that steampunk horse on the cover. No, it doesn't have anything to do with the main plotline, but I guess steampunk is "in" these days so you have to put it on the cover) but the real magic lies in chalk drawings. Rithmatists, which is "Arithmatists" but without the "A," can use chalk lines formed into specific geometric patterns to create magical, living...things. Lines can become walls or attack arrows. Drawn creatures can be minions that can attack or defend. In most cases, this magic is used for either duels (hence the Starcraft II comparison) where they build their own defenses (read: bases) and attack each other with lines or minions, or is used to hold back the wave of what is basically "rogue chalk minions" on some island to stop them from taking over the world. Actually, that second one is pretty important, because it's what all Rithmatists are training to do with their lives: serve on the front lines and then retire.
Our main hero is not a Rithmatist, but he attends a high-brow school where the Rithmatists are trained alongside normal students. The guy really wants to be a Rithmatist though, so much you'd say he's obsessed. He really wants to train with a Rithmatist teacher and, because this is a YA novel, he eventually does. But behold and lo, dear reader, for mystery is afoot! Somebody is offing the Rithmatist students in weird ways, and it's up to our hero, his inept love interest slash enemy slash friend slash girl bad at magic, and a washed-up professor to crack the case! Sound like Harry Potter, just a little? Yes? No? Well, it kind of is. Just a little.
To be honest, this book has a surprising lack of action considering it's a Brandon Sanderson novel, and I'm fine with that. I consider The Emperor's Soul to be his best work ever, and even in that novella the fight scene seemed tacked on. It's fun to follow the rag-tag group of mystery solvers as they try to crack the case and discover more about Rithromancy? Rithmamancy? Rithmatism? Whatever.
Speaking of things that are "un-Brandon Sanderson-like," this book is short. While I did feel the arch concluded in the right timeframe for the novel, I wished the whole thing had gone on a bit longer. Oh well, it leaves on a scene that exists just to bait a sequel (this is more Brandon Sanderson-esque), so you'll get the rest of the story in the second novel. And third one, if he goes that far.
My other major beef with the novel is the ending "twist," and not the first one about the killer but that other one. I won't say anything for spoilers, but it's absurdly lame and almost predictable, and exists only to push a second novel. It also sort of destroys any sense of closure that the book had been building up to, which makes a lot of it feel like a waste. I understand the need to get people excited for a second book, but I was already excited before this scene popped in and made me angry. Also, the final "battle" is anticlimactic compared to the one that happens literally one chapter before it, and seems tacked on to the end just to show how all the characters have grown and can work together now. Yawn.
Complaints aside, The Rithmatist is a solid Sanderson novel, and has everything that fans of his books want: cool magic, fun characters, a splash of humor, and plenty o' plot twists. If you like the guy's work you've probably already read it, but if you're on the fence I'd say take the plunge! It's a fun, fast read and is entertaining from cover to cover. Just...sort of turn your brain off for the ending.
Four out of five stars.