Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale today only for $1.99
Brandon Sanderson develops a new magic system for each fictional world he crafts–and this steampunk young adult novel, set in alternate (yet strangely reminiscent) history of the US, is no exception. And yet… A magic system of lines written on the ground in chalk, where the monsters that threaten to eat you alive are actually two-dimensional, hand-drawn creatures? It’s weird, sounds kind of boring on the surface, and is actually pretty complex to grasp. It’s amazing (and impressive) that Sanderson explains it so well, and that he makes it as exciting as he does.
Joel desperately wants to be a Rithmatist–one with the gift for working with and manipulating those chalk lines–but cannot due to circumstances out of his control. So he does the next best thing: study the discipline as thoroughly yet surreptitiously as possible. Although magical in the sense that it’s not true to our world, the whole Rithmatic system is very logical and based in physics and geometry, so Joel is able to grasp and apply all the basic concepts in his head–even if he can’t execute them personally. This comes in handy as he becomes involved in an investigation of mysterious disappearances (possibly murders) of Rithmatist students at the local university.
As usual, Sanderson’s excellent plotting skills are on display here. Although the book ends with a satisfying resolution, it also leaves plenty of room for follow-up novels, which I’m sure are forthcoming. The voice of The Rithmatist is (intentionally) more juvenile than some of Sanderson’s other books, but a pleasant and quick read nonetheless.