Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Disclaimer: This review will include the basic premise of the story, told in my own way; so if you object to spoilers as much as I do, you should probably skip this review. However, if you're not that kind of person, feel free to read on. The review actually contains no spoilers beyond the basic premise.

The Rithmatist is a young adult fantasy novel written by the master of fiction himself, Brandon Sanderson. It takes place in an alternate, steampunk version of our world. It's not an alternate future; it's an alternate world entirely.

As is traditional for a novel penned by Sanderson, The Rithmatist has a unique magic system that is so utterly unlike anything else, that once you actually understand it, you're shocked by its brilliance. I could try to explain Rithmatics to you, but it's not so easy to explain. Sanderson explains how it works throughout the entirety of the novel, for you can't just learn it all at once. It takes time to understand, but it's brilliant.

In the United Isles of America, those who can use Rithmatics—they're called Rithmatists—are of much higher social class than others. That's because they are the isles' main hope of staying safe. Rithmatics involve creating things using chalk, including defenses and possible weapons. In the isle of Nebrask, there's a tower from which swarm thousands of wild chalkings—savage creatures made purely from chalk but easily capable of killing people in terrible ways. The Rithmatists are the main force keeping the chalkings inside Nebrask and not letting them get into the other fifty-nine isles, fully populated with people.

In the isle of New Britannia, Joel Saxon is a student at Armedius Academy, where they train both Rithmatists and upperclass people who don't have the power of Rithmatics. He himself is not a Rithmatist, nor an upperclassman, but rather the son of a now-dead employee of the academy. All his life he's been fascinated by Rithmatics and has always wished that he could use them, but he lost that chance long ago.

Not everyone becomes Rithmatists. In fact, only a very few amount of people do, always chosen at age 8. Every child must go through the inception ceremony when they're young, which will completely determine their future. If they go through the ceremony and nothing changes, they go on with their lives. If they suddenly discover they can use Rithmatics, they get ridiculous privileges, get education at a special school (such as Armedius), serve in Nebrask for ten years, and then get a pension for the rest of their lives.

As a summer elective before his final year at Armedius, Joel finds himself working with the Rithmatist Professor Finch (a non-Rithmatist working with a Rithmatist is almost unheard of) on a secret project involving the disappearances of a couple Rithmatist students off-campus. Thus begins the fascinating and brilliant story of The Rithmatist.

Now, by this time I know Brandon Sanderson. I know he's going to have amazing, likable characters; I know he's going to have a brilliant magic system that will blow my mind once I properly understand it; I know that he's going to have plot twists that will make Ted Dekker look like the writer of children's books. That last fact is a trademark of Sanderson. If you think you know where the story is going, something's going to change that you will never see coming. That will happen numerous times with every book you read that he has penned.

If there's somebody who knows how to craft a story better than anyone else, it's Brandon Sanderson. He'll always leave hints to things along the way that you'll never pick up on when you first read a story. Things that will later blow your mind. As always, Sanderson has created a brilliant world with a fascinating and unique magic system that nobody could ever think of. When you spend seven years developing a book, it's going to be amazing.

I highly recommend that you pick up this book in print format, rather than digital. Each chapter begins with a diagram, often depicting something to help the reader to continue to understand Rithmatics, or something of the sort. With a print version of the book, it's easy to flip back to the beginning of any chapter at any time you want to refresh your memory, and I found myself doing that all the time. In addition, it's always easier to check the map anytime you like (which, by the way, is a really cool map).

So what, you ask, is the verdict? Well, The Rithmatist is a brilliant and well-crafted story by one of the greatest storytellers in history. The characters aren't just lovable, they're awesome. In addition, the novel takes place in a fascinating world with a unique magic system that nobody but Sanderson could even think up. I fell in love with the world, and I'm devastated by the fact that the sequel isn't estimated to hit shelves until 2015.

I can safely say I recommend this book. I can safely say you should go buy this book the very first chance you get. Thank you very much.

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