Title: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Illustrator: Ben McSweeney
Narrator: Michael Kramer
ISBN: 9781427237439 (audiobook), 9780765320322 (hardcover)
Pages: 378 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: TOR Books, a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. c2013.
The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment, then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
The things flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picture like monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed. (12-13)
Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist when he was younger, but he still gets to observe Rithmatists practice at school. His father was a master chalk maker, but died in an accident and now his mother works non-stop at school in order to pay his debts. Changes and challenges are in the air, as a new professor joins the staff and shakes up the school. When students start disappearing, Joel and a remedial Rithmatist student aid an aging professor in investigating where they went. With no way of protecting himself, Joel isn’t the only one who fears he is in over his head.
I was surprised by how well described the chalk drawings were on the audiobook, and thought the details had been added for listeners benefit. Turns out not only are there drawings, but also descriptions of what they look like and how they function included at the beginning of each chapter. The descriptions test your memory for geometry terms from way back when, but they still make sense. I was also grateful for the map at the beginning of the book that detailed where these places were on an altered map of the United States. What happened to the country, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full details of, but the names and placements of the communities make sense in an almost post-apocalyptic manner.
I also appreciated the turn of events that occur throughout the novel. The tension is drawn out (pardon the pun) slowly, with first one then multiple students going missing, and the trouble escalating. It’s similar to the trouble facing Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as parents either pull their students from the university or are encouraged by the authorities to leave them there under the protection of the guards. But Joel is not the fated wizard who will save the world. In fact, he is powerless against the chalklings – creatures made of chalk that can attack both chalk defenses and living beings — instead using his analytic brain to overcome what he sees as a handicap. Melody is the loquacious, wise-cracking side-kick in this story, whose curiosity and optimism get the better of her and repeatedly put her in danger. But Joel needs her Rithmatist skills, however remedial, and their dynamics and budding friendship evolve and appear very naturally as they interact with increasing frequency through their studies with Professor Fitch. I also liked Professor Fitch, who seems best suited to mentor both Melody and Joel. As the principal of the school at one point tells Joel, “Professor Fitch likes to be bothered [...] particularly by students. He’s one of the few true teachers we have at this school.” (83) Professor Fitch emphasizes strategy over showmanship, and really encourages reason from the pair.
The problems that Joel and Melody encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the book, only to have author Brandon Sanderson throw a twist into the mix, so the last few chapters open a whole new can of worms. Readers will have to wait for the sequel to truly discover where Joel, Melody, and the person responsible for the disappearances are headed. And unfortunately, the sequel is not expected to see the light of day until 2015. Plenty of time for readers to practice their own rithmatist skills.