I recently had the pleasure of reading an arc of adult author Brandon Sanderson's (WARBREAKER; author chosen to complete Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME series) new YA novel THE RITHMATIST. It wasn't something I'd necessarily choose, being partial to contemporary novels. However, I truly enjoyed it.
THE RITHMATIST is set in a sort of steam-punk, alternate America with a different geography, the constant danger from "the front at Nebrask" and two types of citizens: ordinary folk and Rithmatists, who are selected through a mysterious inception process, and trained in the art of Rithmatics before being sent to Nebrask to keep the rest of the world safe. The way Rithmatists fight is by drawing complex lines, shapes and figures (Chalklings). Due to their Rithmatic power, they can animate these two-dimension chalk lines into actual battles.
Enter into this scenario Joel, non-Rithmatist son of a deceased, lowly chalkmaker. Living with his mother on the campus of a famed private school for Rithmatists and elite ordinary students, Amedius Academy, Joel doesn't fit in anywhere--until his fascination with the mysterious Rithmatic world, and his friendships with a doddering professor and a misfit Rithmatics trainee, lead him into the thick of a mystery involving the disappearance (kidnapping) of several of his classmates. I found myself turning the pages quickly as the mystery element grew increasingly exciting.
Intrigued as I am by experimentation with literary forms--from Brian Selznick's graphic delight, THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, to Caroline Starr Rose's poingnant verses in MAY B, I was curious about the seemingly hand-drawn pages detailing Rithmatic lines, shapes, and defences which preceded each chapter. While at first I gave them only cursory glances, by the novel's end, I was swept up into the richly detailed and well-thought-out strategy of Rithmatics, becoming, in a sense, a student of the art myself. And, by the time the climactic battle and iconic "student melee" were fought at the end of the novel, I realized that it was through my increasing interest in the drawings that I was entirely swept up in the dueling.
The Rithmatist is about being an outsider, about judging others before getting all the facts, about the relationship between church and academia, about friendship between those who consider themselves misfits, and about the way students perceive that grown-up world they are about to enter.
I often comment that I'm not really a fantasy, sci-fi, or steampunk reader. But novels like THE RITHMATIST make me wonder if I should stop writing these glittering generalities. Because I am a fan of exciting, ambitious writing and a good story well told. Regardless of genre, THE RITHMATIST is surely that.
Here's what the other Bookanistas
have been reading this week...
Katy Upperman adores IMPOSSIBLE by Nancy Werlin
Jackson is wowed by WAIT FOR YOU