A review of The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
With illustrations by Ben McSweeney
Published 2013, Tor Books
I tried reading The Wheel of Time when I was in high school and my memory of the experience is, let’s just say, not wonderful. So pat me on the back the next time you see me because I bought, and have now read, The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, the guy who jumped in where Robert Jordan took off.
I didn’t really want to finish this book. (Happy I did though.) I was about 3 chapters into the novel when I almost decided to give up on it, much like I did for The Wheel of Time. I didn’t want to read further because it was just moving a bit too slowly for me. 60 pages on, all we know is that Rithmatists, ‘chosen’ people who can conjure physical shields and attack creatures using chalk-drawn lines and figures, are not well liked, but lead character Joel really wants to be one of them.
Joel is a bit of a Ted Mosby, the unfortunately bland lead amidst other more colorful and textured characters. He easily pales beside Melody, a theatrically erratic underachieving Rithmatist in a sea of Hermione Grangers. Fitch, who I imagined as the professor version of Argus Filch (haha), also interested me a bit more than Joel. At one point, I even wished I was just reading the story of Joel’s dead father, a non-Rithmatist chalkmaker and researcher par excellence. Joel’s so forgettable that I couldn’t even remember his name a quarter into the book.
Now, we have to take into consideration that Sanderson is masterful at world-building. The universe of this book shows that. We’re thrust into Armadeus Academy in New Brittania—it’s the premier Rithmatist school in the United Isles, in charge of keeping the wild chalklings at bay in Nebrask. Rithmatists defend and attack using a variety of Lines, all of which I could easily explain to you, because Sanderson is so good at this that the whole logic of this new battlefield just made sense.
So I get that he probably intended for Joel to be forgettable. He actually is quite invisible in the school, known only to very few students and teachers even though he has been there his entire life. However, while I think it’s perfectly acceptable for him to be the most unmemorable character in the world he exists in, as the lead character in a book, he should at least be a standout to the reader.
But much like the rest of The Rithmatist, Joel redeems himself as a bankable lead towards the end of this book, which is where Sanderson decides to release the torrent of excitement and mayhem he had been unnecessarily keeping at bay throughout the story. Primary a mystery novel, where Joel’s assistance is needed to solve the puzzle behind a series of student disappearances, the book (and Joel) spent too much time dwelling and building on the mystery.
Where other books start off great and eventually lose steam, The Rithmatist gives us the complete opposite. Then cuts us off abruptly. I knew I was just a few pages away from the ending, and as I was being extremely entertained with a Rithmatist student battle, I was also thinking, “How could this end with just a few pages left?”
It couldn’t. The book, it turns out after a little Googling, is planned as two volumes. Damn you, Sanderson and Tor, for not saying that anywhere on the book. So now, I’m left hanging, not knowing what will happen to Melody and to Joel now that they have certainly caught the attention of a very formidable villain.
Am I complaining? Yes, I’m downright throwing a Melody-sized fit, because there isn’t even a release date yet for the 2nd book. And also because I seriously think Sanderson could have condensed this part of the story enough to accommodate the next into just one book. However, I know I have more of The Rithmatist to look forward to, so for that, I have no complaints.