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Bane of Kings reviews Brandon Sanderson’s epic young adult novel The Rithmatist.
“A blend of Harry Potter and Steampunk, written by the fantasy master who gave us The Mistborn Trilogy. Compelling, creative and enthralling – The Rithmatist may well be one of the best Young Adult reads of 2013.” ~The Founding Fields
I’m a massive fan of Brandon Sanderson. I’ve loved his Mistborn Trilogy, with Vin making the list of one of my all time favourite characters. His Elantris is pretty good as well – awesome for a debut book, and Legion proved that he can write novellas well. So, how would Sanderson handle Young Adult fiction? As it turns out, as excellent as his normal fantasy. I finished this book in a couple of sittings, and couldn’t put it down. There’s only one minor flaw hampering The Rithmatist, but that wasn’t enough to detract from the overall awesomeness of the book apart from slow down its pace a bit more. The flaw in question is his magic systems – I know Sanderson’s magic systems are some of the most well developed in epic fantasy, but for those of you who felt like he went overboard in their description with his past novels, then think again. There’s a lot more description here, and that therefore slows down the pace a bit. But rest not - The Rithmatist is otherwise a wonderful book, and if you’ve loved Sanderson’s books in the past, then you’ll love what he’s done here.
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.
Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.
There are several comparisons to Harry Potter in this book. You get the evil teacher, the young male hero, Harry (Joel) and the young female best friend, but not a love interest (or at least in Book One, anyway) Hermione (Melody), but whilst in any others hands it would be led to be viewed as a weak copy, Sanderson manages to make The Rithmatist filled with his own method of storytelling, compelling narrative and interesting characters that make the story stand out. Sure, Harry Potter fans will find something to love here – but it also manages to appeal to those who have read Sanderson’s work before, and epic fantasy readers looking to give the author a try for the first time – as well as more importantly, it succeeds in appealing to the young adult audience that this book is aimed at.
Whilst the magic may be overly described, it’s still very creative. There isn’t a magic system quite like it – whilst he simply could have used the magic system from Mistborn with a different paintjob, Sanderson has managed to invent a whole new style here, that adds to the uniqueness of the book and it was very interesting to learn about. I just wish Sanderson hadn’t quite as used it as much as he has done in the book – but otherwise, The Rithmatist hits all the right levels for me. The characters are interesting despite their connections with Harry Potter – Joel is sympathetic and rootable, and Melody is a strong female character in her own right – having plenty to do in this novel. Both are flawed and far from perfect – and Sanderson manages to make them compelling and believable. The other characters are also interesting to look at – and surprisingly, given that its set in a school – are all adults. The likeable Professors Fitch, and the Snape-esque character of Nalizar. Sure, whilst Joel does interact with the students and we learn a few of their names – the limited use of Fitch, Nalizar – and the other third main character, Inspector Harding allow for a limited use of cast allowing us to not lose track with too many characters, which has been the downfall of several novels in the past.
I also love that Sanderson hasn’t fallen into the trap of many young adult writers to try and include romance in the book, but at least in The Rithmatist, Joel and Melody remain friends throughout the whole novel. Whilst romance can be good if handled well – it’s refreshing to read a book without it, especially as it allows Sanderson to create interesting characters that don’t depend on the love of the other in order to fulfil a task.
In conclusion, I think if you like Young Adult novels or a fan of Sanderson, then you’ll enjoy The Rithmatist. It reads like a blend of steampunk and Harry Potter, and is compelling enough to keep you reading. A great book – and I eagerly await to see where the sequel takes us.