Series: Rithmatist #1
Genre: Clockpunk Fantasy
Size: 336 pages
Availability: Paperback, Ebook, Audiobook
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing – kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics – and their world – forever.
I have been recommending The Rithmatist left, right, and centre since reading it and for good reason. This is a young adult fantasy in the same vein as your Harry Potters and Percy Jacksons. It’s not about romance and balancing a relationship alongside other struggles, but instead it’s about an alternate universe in which America is made up of a series of archipelagos called the United Islands of America, China has formed the JoSeun empire and conquered Europe, and magic exists in the form of chalk drawings which come to life if you have the ability to draw them so, known as Rithmatics.
Though I will admit that initially I wasn’t convinced. My first impression was that this was a book written for Sanderson’s son, also called Joel. The main character is obsessed with Rithmatics and the magic system is chalk. That shouldn’t work. But it does, because Brandon Sanderson has written it and I’m sure he could write about the adventures of the lost sock and it would still be compelling. When you take into account his masterful world-building, deeply thought out history, immense cast of characters, fantastic dialogue, and the fact that interesting magic systems and jaw dropping endings are his thing, you realise that The Rithmatist is something special. The chalk drawing illustrations throughout the novel only add to the complete immersion into this book.
So the story follows Joel, a teenage boy who is completely fascinated by Rithmatics, passionately so, but cannot perform it himself, much to his dismay. He is lonely, being from a poor family at a school for the rich, and the Rithmatically inclined, both groups being highly exclusive. The reason why Joel was able to be enrolled in this particular school takes a while to be revealed as it is related to his deceased father and I found myself groaning everytime this was mentioned (or non-mentioned, as I’d prefer to put it), but when it is finally revealed my eyes lit up with glee, because Sanderson had done it again. He always gives us a mystery or twelve to solve, and by the end the reader is left floored because ho! Didn’t see that coming! While forced to attend school in the Summer for failing his classes yet again, he befriends Melody, a strange girl who is failing her Rithmatist classes but loves to draw. Joel starts helping her with her lines and while working under Professor Fitch, the brilliant but slightly scatterbrained Rithmatics professor, he becomes involved in a deeper mystery surrounding the disappearance of Rithmatist students.
And of course, I’m sure you want to know what’s so steampunk about it? Well, as it’s set in the early 1900’s in an alternate version of our Earth, this paves the way for a little steampunk. In The Rithmatist, Brandon uses a branch of steampunk known as ‘clockpunk’ to create his otherworldly environment. It’s very simple, but quite lovely. My favourite additions have to be the clockwork crabs which are set to keep the grass neat, and the clockwork lanterns. And just you wait until you see the trains!
I recommend The Rithmatist to fans of Brandon Sanderson, as it contains the wonderful qualities that he is known for as a fantasy author. I also recommend it to everybody else. Whether you love or hate epic fantasy, this book is something different. It’s an easy read, absorbing, and has the kind of twists and turns that will leave you clamouring for more. I firmly believe that this can be considered Harry Potter for the next generation. I love it that much.
1. The Rithmatist