BOOK REVIEW: The Rithmatist

BOOK REVIEW: The Rithmatist

the rithmatist coverTitle: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: TOR
Genre: Fantasy (magic/steampunk)
Age: Young Adult
Release Date: May 14, 2013


REVIEW: The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist is the first in the newest fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson, famous for his completion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. The students of the Rithmatics department are the school’s elite. Rithmatists, as children, gain the ability use chalk to create living, moving drawings that can interact with the environment around them. As adults, they are also the only ones capable of defending the land from the Wild Chalklings that destroy everything in sight. Recently, there has been a string of Rithmatic student disappearances. Professor Finch is assisting in the investigation, but only with the help of Joel and Melody can he hope to solve the case.


The Rithmatist is very reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter with it’s school setting and mystery plot in a fantasy setting. The story is set in an alternate Earth with subtle gearpunk theme. The covers include a map of North America as it appears in the book, and the book is filled with fantastic illustrations by Ben McSweeney detailing the different patterns and strategies used. These details help to draw the reader in to the world Sanderson has created. The art of Rithmatics is reminiscent of the circles used in Fullmetal Alchemist. The lore behind everything is interesting and mysterious, and the readers are left with just as many questions as answers. The main characters, Joel Saxton and Melody Muns represent two sides of the same coin. Joel, the son of a cleaning lady, desperately wants to be a Rithmatist, or, at least, study at the elusive Rithmatics school. He fights for his impossible goal at every opportunity. Melody, on the other hand, comes from a family of Rithmatists and rebels against the role being forced on her. She becomes a social pariah due to her lack of cooperation and, as a result, frequently acts dramatically to bring attention to herself. Joel has a large knowledge base, but no ability to execute. Meanwhile, Melody represents pure untapped potential in an underachiever. While there is some initial resentment between the two, they slowly work past their differences, becoming an unstoppable team by the end.

Map of the United Isles by Ben McSweeney

Map of the United Isles by Ben McSweeney

Unfortunately, The Rithmatist struggles with it’s portrayal of women, and it may be off-putting at first. One of the first women the readers meets, after the prologue, is Florence, a young blond secretary that wears flashy outfits and enjoys sitting on her desk and gossiping. The main female character, Melody is also shoved into the background for the first half of the book. However, the topic of sexism comes up frequently in the book, and Melody herself goes from begrudgingly accepting the exclusion to fighting for her place in the group. It is possible that the treatment of the female characters by the author is supposed to be a reflection of the fight against sexism in the workplace and academia that women of that world are going though at the time. Melody, however, is interesting enough that we are willing to give this concern a very tentative pass until the sequel is released.


Overall, The Rithmatist is a fascinating read with a unique concept, interesting story, strong characters, and unexpected twists. Sanderson could easily have the next big YA fantasy series on his hand, and fans of Harry Potter should definitely check it out. The sequel, The Aztlanian, is due out some time next year.

This copy of The Rithmatist was purchased by the staff here at GeekTFO for the purposes of this review.

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