Review: The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

January 13, 2014 Reviews 7 ★★★★

Review: The Rithmatist, Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Series: Rithmatist #1
Published by Orion on May 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 372
Source: My copy
Amazon • Amazon UK • Book Depository

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.


I have a confession to make – this is the first Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read (*prepares for excommunication from fantasy fans*). I do have a couple sitting on my shelves but I haven’t had much of a chance for epic fantasy lately! Enter The Rithmatist, with great reviews from some of my trusted fellow reviewers and I had to get a hold of a copy.

The world as we know it is rather different in The Rithmatist. The story is set in the United Isles of America – an archipelago connected by the springrail, a railway driven by enormous springs. This is the early twentieth century in an alternate track of history – one where wild chalklings are held at bay by an army of Rithmatists, working their magic using lines of chalk.

The steam-punkish world (actually sort of more gear- or spring-punk) and magic system Sanderson has created for this story is extremely unique and detailed. It’s so detailed that it requires pretty much the whole first half of the book to teach the reader enough about the basic principles of Rithmatics that we can understand what’s going on in the second half. This makes the early parts of the book a little slow, however I was quite fascinated by the different types of geometic shapes that can be used in Rithmatic defenses. It’s really a geometry geek’s dream, and the illustrations all through this story are just perfect for visualisation.

The cast of characters is very diverse, but I think my favourite has to be Melody. She’s just such a quirky person, her exuberance nearly bursts out of the page like one of her little unicorns. Joel is a young man clearly still missing his father, but it’s really nice to see him get a connection back by the end of the story. I also thought it was great that the person behind the disappearances is very shadowy and unexpected right up to the end. There’s plenty more to come in this story and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m just going to have to get around to reading that The Way of Kings tome on my shelf, aren’t I? That or book two of this series, whichever comes first!

four-stars – A very enjoyable mystery set in a complex magical world.

Anni lives in Brisbane, Australia with her young family. She loves everything fantasy and science fiction and believes sleep is really very underrated.

7 Responses to “Review: The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson”

    • Angelya

      Do you know, it never occurred to me that this might be set in the American West… it may be set there physically but it doesn’t really read like a western. I’m no expert on westerns though or American History so don’t take my word for it!

      • Kamalia

        The setting is an alternate America, for sure, but not an alternate Old West. Jamestown, New Britannia in the world of the Rithmatist corresponds to Jamestown, Virginia in our world.

        I’ve been wondering, though, since you’ve read at least some of the Dark Tower series and I haven’t — where is Stephen King’s Dark Tower physically located? Is the location of The Tower in Nebrask in the Rithmatist, besides being a poke at Brandon Sanderson’s own youth in the state of Nebraska, perhaps a nod to the Dark Tower?
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        • Angelya

          No there’s no obvious parallel yet to the Dark Tower, although I’ve only read the first few books so I’m not 100% sure. The Dark Tower itself is in a fantasy world. I need to read the rest of those at some stage actually, thanks for reminding me!

  1. Leila

    Alright, so it is time for me to face the truth and admit that I am in the minority on not liking this book. I just felt like it tried too hard to be Harry Potter and it failed in those parallels (some are just blatant and obvious to me). But alas, everyone I have talked to has enjoyed it.

    Probably won’t stop me from reading the second book though.

  2. Wendy Hatton

    This sounds like the sort of story one of my girls likes to read. i will have to look out for it for her.

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