Joel would love to be a Rithmatist, but he missed his opportunity. Now, with his father dead and his mother constantly working to pay off family debts, Joel constantly tries to sneak ways to study Rithmatic theory at the prestigious school of Armedius. When an upstart Rithmatic professor unseats an established professor, Joel befriends the fallen professor and is taken on in a special project: investigating why Rithmatic students have started disappearing from their homes at night.
Well, Brandon Sanderson is one of my very favorite authors, and this book didn’t disappoint. It was fun and well-crafted. I enjoyed the characters and the magic system. I loved figuring out the mystery along with Joel, Professor Fitch, Melody, and Inspector Harding. I was impressed by several twists and turns, especially near the end. I like that the book flew in the face of convention – particularly in that Joel’s suspicion from the beginning turns out to be right, and Melody was a strong female character while also being a very girly character. (This last point, I read about in an interview with Sanderson, and know that he purposely created her to be this way, because all too often, strong female characters fit too much into a specific stereotype in today’s literature.)
On the other hand, I will say that there was one disappointing aspect of the novel, and that’s to do with the age group it was written for. In that same interview, one of the things Sanderson said was that with writing YA, he didn’t have to spend as much time building the world or magic system, that some things could just be understood without being explained. That’s a great concept, but I feel like it’s flawed, and the lack of development definitely showed in this book. It felt far more shallow than other Sanderson novels, and definitely more shallow than some well-written YA novels. Having just finished Siege and Storm, I can say without a doubt that a well-developed world and magic system just makes a novel richer, not more “adult.” I felt like The Rithmatist would have been much better if it hadn’t been quite so surface level. It skimmed across the top of things too much. In fact, I would go so far as to say it felt more middle-grade than YA – though again, shallow middle-grade, rather than thick middle-grade.
Still, it was an enjoyable read. I read through it twice, looking through all the twists and turns after knowing them the second time. I would guess all three of my boys would love to read this one, especially Morrigan. And, I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel! I will say that Sanderson once again excelled at creating a first book without leaving too hard a cliffhanger. Yes, there is more to come, but there was also a good closure to this book and story, and characters I would love to see again. Perfect.
Note: Illustrations were done by Ben McSweeney. I wasn’t particularly impressed with them, honestly. They did fine for the book, but they weren’t really my style, and they didn’t really convey the (somewhat thin) steampunk feeling that was in the book.
Second note: Later in the summer, Jason and I read this book aloud to our three boys. That made the experience even more enjoyable, and made the book more memorable than it would have been otherwise.