Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

My Rating: 5/5 star

Let me just start off by saying that Brandon Sanderson is an amazing fantasy author. Seriously, if you like fantasy and you haven’t read anything by him, you need to get on that. His worldbuilding is amazing. His writing is amazing. And no, I’m not a fangirl at all (except I totally am).

Anyway, back to the point at hand.

Summary (No Spoilers)

The world of The Rithmatist is an alternate Earth where the entirety of the United States is islands (called, quite uncreatively, the United Isles of America), a lot of the countries are called different things, and there is magic. The magic is called Rithmatics, and it’s basically fancy geometry. The people who can use this magic, called Rithmatists, draw shapes or lines on the ground in chalk and make them do things like block attacks, attack other Rithmatists’ defenses, or move around as if alive (though the drawings always stay two-dimensional). Only about 1 in 1000 people get chosen to become Rithmatists, and a new Rithmatist cannot be chosen until an older one dies.

The story is mostly set on the island of New Britannia, where our main character, Joel, attends Armedius Academy, a school for Rithmatists and the very rich. Joel is not either of these things. He is the son of one of the academy’s cleaning ladies, and he is obsessed with Rithmatics, but the Rithmatist part of the school is very secretive and exclusive. The only Rithmatics professor who will tolerate Joel sitting in on his lectures is Professor Fitch, an old man with tenure who is one of the school’s best professors, and whom Joel desperately wants to study with during the summer.

Through a series of convoluted efforts, Joel manages to get his dream, becoming Fitch’s summer research assistant. But when Rithmatics students start to disappear, what was supposed to be a fun summer tutelage launches Joel, Fitch, and the whole of Armedius Academy into a veritable murder mystery with a magical twist.

The Review

In case you haven’t gathered it from the rating I gave up above, I absolutely loved this book. I listened to it on audiobook through my local library, which, while I don’t necessarily recommend it because I think there were probably pictures in the book that I missed, was a lot of fun. It let me read a book while I was doing other things, which was great.

However, my absolute favorite thing about this book, as it is with most of Brandon Sanderson’s books, was the world building. His worlds are always so unique, so complex, with several distinct cultures, all with their own nuances. It makes my little writers’ heart well up with happiness. Really, the only complaint I have about it is that there wasn’t more worldbuilding, but that’s nitpicky. It would’ve been nearly impossible for him to really flesh out the rest of the cultures in this alternate Earth, especially since basically the entire book is set on only one of the islands that make up his alternate United States. He throws in enough subtle, offhand references to other countries and cultures that they make his world feel as culturally varied as our own, which I really appreciate.

Another of my favorite things about this book was the characters. They were all so fun, and they kept me guessing. At first, many of them seemed a little one-note, but then as you read more and more about them, you got to know them better and better and got to see different sides of them, which I think is beautiful. None of the characters were flat. They all had a depth to them, which revealed itself eventually, even if you didn’t see it at first.

Speaking of depth and detail, I want to talk about the magic system because it is so cool. And this is coming from someone who hates math with a passion. But the way that the book explains what is basically fancy geometry makes it seem so much more cool and accessible. That being said, I don’t have any more affinity for actual math now than I did before I read this book, but Rithmatics? I can get behind that. It also happens to be one of the most creative magic systems I’ve ever read about. I mean, the ability to fight by drawing some chalk lines on the ground? Sure, it may not be all that flashy, but it’s undeniably creative. Plus, so much of the culture is firmly rooted in this magic, and it is so seamlessly blended into this world which otherwise seems normal. In fact, in this world, everyone relies on it.

I absolutely could not recommend this book more, and the thing is, this isn’t even my favorite book by Brandon Sanderson. Seriously, if you like fantasy, which I assume you do if you’ve read all the way to the end of this review, you need to read some Sanderson. Even if you don’t really like fantasy, I think you could still like this. By being set in a world that is at once familiar and foreign, it bridges the gap between the terrifyingly long epic fantasies (which Sanderson has also written) and contemporary novels. It really is the best of both worlds (cliché alert).

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you next week.

-Ariel

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