Review – The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist, #1)The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, Illustrated by Ben McSweeney
Synopsis from GoodReads:
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. 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 learn 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.

Finally I am able to attend my sci-fi book club, which means I actually read the book chosen for January in a timely manner.

I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed The Rithmatist, although it certainly isn’t my favorite.  Perhaps the problem is that it’s a young adult book that reads like it was written for young teens, despite the protagonist being 16.  For that matter, Joel himself reads like he’s younger than 16, as does Melody.

That being said, the book thankfully manages to mostly keep from being black-and-white, good-and-evil.  Not entirely, of course, thanks especially to one of the final twists, but enough so to keep things truly interesting – and that kept me genuinely guessing about the culprit, which I appreciated.

On the positive side, the book is fast-paced once it gets going, although there were definitely times, especially in the beginning, when it dragged.  The pace picks up after the second disappearance, with only a couple lulls after that, thankfully.

Another thing I enjoyed was the world-building that went into this novel.  The changed geography and history is fascinating and I really wish there was more of that in here.

On the downside, however, I was never really able to warm to any of the main characters.  They’re not unlikable, thankfully, just… childish, on the part of Melody and Joel, and a little too close to being caricatures of two very different stereotypes, on the parts of Fitch and Harding.  Some of the side characters are more dynamic, but the four with the most screen time… I just had a hard time getting attached to them.

And my final complaint is that I thought this book was a stand-alone.  I was wrong, as the final three words of the book make plain.  That’s not affecting my rating, since the book’s main plot was wrapped up, but there’s also too much left open-ended to be continued in the next book, and I wasn’t expecting that, which left me feeling a bit wrong-footed.

Overall, an enjoyable read, although I worry that I won’t have a lot to contribute to my book club because I found the book so middle-of-the-road.  3 out of 5 stars.

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