“The Rithmatist” by Brandon Sanderson

RithmatistI’d like to make an argument for taking The Rithmatist out of your libraries’ YA sections and putting it where it’ll get read: in the Children’s section. Barring that, I hope many of you will recommend Brandon Sanderson’s new book to tweens and older kids who like fantasy and are ready for a tiny bit of steampunk. I know Publishers Weekly gave the age range for this book as 12 and up. But Kirkus says 10 and up, and I agree with Kirkus. True, our protagonist Joel is 16, but he doesn’t act like a modern-day 16 year old (there’s no angst, no sex). He seems more like a Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 11-year-old than any 16-year-old I know.

The setting is an alternate Earth and our protagonists live in the United Isles of America. It’s approximately the turn of the last century (though we only know that because we’re told so). The people of the United Isles continually fight Chalklings – evil chalk drawings (not kidding). The ones actually battling the Chalklings are Rithmatists–chosen by The Master and given an ability to use chalk magically. Joel, to his disappointment is not a Rithmatist, but he knows more about them than most people do and knows how to fight Chalklings better than many of the Rithmatists. In this first book of a promised series, Joel becomes involved in solving a mystery of missing Rithmatic students.

There’s a lot going on in this book: Math (!), religion (The Master=God), problems with parents, and plenty of evil guys. But it works, even if many of the deeper issues are just glossed over. The editor in me wishes that Sanderson had started including more references to the various clockwork beings that inhabit the world – like a mechanical crab that is used to cut grass – earlier in the novel. It seems that clockworks will become more important to those fighting the evil Chalklings later on, but even more important, such mentions would have helped flesh out the setting. Still in all, I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out.

–Marie Drucker, Malverne Public Library

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