The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (2013)

rithChalk monsters, drawings that come alive, and a protagonist who failed to be “chosen” make this a unique foray into steampunk fantasy.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:  378 (for ISBN 9780765320322)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: steampunk, mysterious

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: monsters, magic, magic schools, alternate reality

Themes: missed opportunities, dreams, talent, disappointment

Summary: 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 learn 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.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in worldbuilding, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Fantasy fans looking for something different will appreciate this unique world and its cliche-busting characters.  The premise is full of possibilities that should spark the imaginations of creative readers. This would also be a good choice for mystery readers, as long as they don’t mind fantasy mixed in.

Who won’t like this book?: The Rithmatist isn’t action-heavy, and some readers may find it slow. The unique world-building requires readers with strong imaginations who don’t mind reading a bit out of their comfort zones, since the book deviates from fantasy conventions in many ways.

Other comments: This is marketed as YA and is often shelved in YA collections, but it would not be out of place in a middle grade collection for strong readers.  The only mature content is some violence.

Sequel(s): The Aztlanian (tentatively scheduled for 2017)

Readalikes: Brandon Sanderson has a reputation for putting out consistently high-quality speculative fiction at lightning speed.  His YA series Steelheart and middle grade series Alcatraz both have middle school appeal.  The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is another imaginative alternate reality fantasy, this one centered not on drawings but on maps. Steampunk fans may enjoy Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. The manga Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa also has a similar feel to this.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10137823-the-rithmatist

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