Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Release: May 14th 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, YA
#1 in the Rithmatist duology
Sequels: The Aztlanian (#2)


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.


Honestly, I'm a little disappointed. I would think that Brandon Sanderson, as a critically acclaimed author, would know better than to make some stupid beginner mistakes. Maybe my expectations were simply too high, but I found myself terribly underwhelmed for most of the novel.

What really bugged me the most was that Sanderson has created this huge new world, with an alternate history timeline, that is set in 1908, yet he never does anything with this world. He never really uses it to create a specific atmosphere, and he barely uses the historical setting for ... I don't know, I mean, back in 1908, a teenage boy and girl going out for ice cream together, unsupervised, would that really have been so ... not a huge deal? I don't know exactly, I know it would have been thirty years earlier though, so I'm imagining that people wouldn't just have turned such a blind eye. It just made no sense and a lot of the time, I even completely forgot it was set in 1908. As for the world-building itself, it was genius — with map, historical backgrounds, Sanderson even thought of and included what's up with other countries! He doesn't live in an American-only bubble! But ... it's never relevant to the story. Nope. Seems like a wasted effort, but who knows, maybe it will get more important in the next installments? We'll see. It annoyed me, though, so much potential just being discarded like that.

Next up, there's the matter of the lack of entertainment the book provided I already mentioned. The real, exciting action didn't start until about page 300, and up until then, the only thing that really kept me going was the mystery aspect, and only barely. I was super close to just skimming until it got (hopefully) interesting farther in, however, I kept holding on and really had to take this book in doses in order to avoid it. I still finished it pretty fast, mind you, but only because I really pushed myself to pick it up. I'd read an hour, and then take another hour break, read again for an hour, take a break, because, I kid you not, this book made me want to sleep every time I started it. Really, this book has granted me two naps in the last two days, which, hey, I'm not complaining about the extra (much-needed) snoozes, but ... it's bad if a book is so lame it puts me to sleep.

It wasn't even the characters' fault for the most part, though, because they were really likable and well done for the most part. Yes, they could be really dull and see-through sometimes, and I think there really could have been way more character development. I think Joel has made a lot of progress towards becoming a better self, but take Melody, she's still the same obnoxious girl she was at the start. She has learned things, gained confidence maybe, sure, but still — I don't see that much development there. Maybe I'm just too harsh, but with an author like Sanderson who has already written shittons of novels (that were bestseller hits, no less), I just expect a little more. 

It also read like middle grade at times, which really kind of threw me off. I mean, chalk drawings and stuff like that does seem a bit more like a children's story, but I was willing to believe it could be very mature. However, despite the fact that our main characters are sixteen, they sometimes behaved more like they were six. It might just be their intended character traits or something, but the way Melody always intoned how her life is such a tragedy, it just made the whole thing sound a little ridiculous and childish, like she was throwing some kind of tantrum.

By the way, don't take this the wrong way — I thoroughly enjoyed Melody as a character and I really liked her, but I did have a few problems with her attitude. I can see where her character arc might be going, and I am seriously hoping that she is going to grow up into a more mature, smart woman who doesn't think the world is revolving around herself, but still keeps all her self-confidence; if that happens, I will be more than pleased. 

In the end, The Rithmatist was enjoyable enough, although the last hundred pages really turned the tide in the book's favor and, in direct contrast to the rest of the book which is more or less bland, it was extremely intense and exciting, which kind of made up for the lack of suspense the previous 270 pages. A little, at least. The premise is unique and interesting in and of itself, and the ways of Rithmatics are explained in great length and detail, which might have contributed to the book being tedious at times, but all in all, I didn't mind too much. If a murder mystery is your thing and you think the idea of chalk battles is really cool, this one's for you. Personally, I think I'll stick to the Reckoners for now.

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