GUG Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

RithmatistTitle: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Teen

Genre: Steampunk, Fantasy, Teen

Pages: 384

Content Warning:

Brandon Sanderson usually has clean books, and that’s even more emphasized in The Rithmatist, as it is a young adult novel.  No swearing outside Sanderson’s own hand-crafted, story-appropriate slurs, and nothing else of note.

The Book in a Nutshell (No Spoilers):

Time for a strange and imaginary conversation that will hopefully convey a point.  Hoorah!

“Salutations, friend of mine.”
“Could I pitch a story idea to you, brother?”
“It would be my greatest honor to receive.”
“Mmm, truly it would indeed.  I would like to write a book you see, a book about magic.  There must be a school about magic, of course.  There will be a young male protagonist, a sentimental and wise older male, and a brooding, narcissistic professor.  It’ll be pretty much an exact replica of Harry Potter.”
“I see, I see.  That’s alright, the “boy who goes to wizarding school” idea existed long before Harry Potter was around.  It all matters is what you do with it.”
“Forsooth, the words from your face are true!  So here’s what I reckon: I take all of this, except make the magic about—wait for it—chalk.”
“So, do the characters make magic symbols with the chalk that then shoot fire or lightn—”
“Nope, just chalk. Chalk trigonometry, chalk politics, chalk everything.  Isn’t it a wonderful idea, brother?”
“Not particularly.  You should probably just stick to reading.  You Muggle.”

And the point of this conversation?   Nothing.  Just that Brandon Sanderson is a genius.

In spite of what might be perceived to be against it, The Rithmatist is a treasure trove of glorious opportunity and imagination.  Acting as a young adult novel (leaning middle-grade) with a fascinating twist on an otherwise generic concept, Joel is a boy interested in Rithmatics–a fantasy-science in which people have the ability to take chalk and make weapons in the forms of Chalklings and various projectiles or shields drawn onto surfaces.  This might first appear as a very odd and limited form of magic, but we’re talking about a time-tested master of the craft, here.  Sanderson is known for many things in the contemporary fantasy realm, and most notorious of these things are his magic systems.  Rithmatics is no different.  Utilizing a cocktail of enthusiasm, bravery, and a little bit of geometry, Rithmatics proves to be not only unique, but inspiring (If not a little inspired itself.  I can’t help but think the author has seen Fullmetal Alchemist).  Between each chapter, you learn about the art and mastery of Rithmatics, almost as if you were taking one of Joel’s classes for yourself, and the more you discover, the more you yearn for it all to be real.

One of the formulas  Rithmatists use to defend themselves.

One of the formulas Rithmatists use to defend themselves.

Even if the Chalklings can eat people.  Yeah, that’s right.  Be afraid.  It’s not a pretty way to go.

But it’s not all about the magic, of course.  The world setting is a grand, albeit broken menagerie of The United States itself, literally divided by massive channels of water, and with each new segment branded new names.  Among these segments is Nebrask, home to The Tower and a bloody swathe of battle between Rithmatist military and rogue Chalklings.  Many people at the school of Armedius are training to go to the frontlines at Nebrask, but, unfortunately, protagonist Joel will not get a chance, as he has missed his “inception” and opportunity to become a fully-fledged Rithmatist.  Now, no matter how well he understands the precision of the art, its history, or which formulas are best designed for defeating his enemies, Joel is doomed to watch only from the sidelines.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t get into plenty of trouble once Armedius Academy is thrown into chaos over the new Professor Nalizar, a war-torn veteran from Nebrask determined to forge a new agenda for everybody at the Rithmatic school.

rithmatist-the-four-rithmatic-linesOverall, this is a pretty solid work.  From a personal standpoint, I found it to be my least favorite of all Sanderson novels I have read to date, but that doesn’t mean much considering I still fawned over nearly every page.  Joel, Nalizar, and the other key characters of Inspector Harding, Melody, and Professor Finch made this a delicious work of steampunk flavor (or “gearpunk,” as Sanderson suggests it be called).  I really only had one major issue with the novel, being one character in particular.  This book boasts both one of my favorite and least favorite characters of all Sanderson’s novels so far.  Melody and Harding, respectively.  To err on the side of caution, as I would hate to spoil anything, Melody is great because of an awkward, self-fabricated quirkiness and spree of flippant antagonizing, but Harding is a bit over the top.  Not so much the dimensions of the character himself as much as how Sanderson wrote him to be.  A lot of his dialogue is sort of gaudy, and emphasized with exclamations that could have gone without.  Though this can easily be passed off when you consider the target audience.  Plus, I don’t think this was so much an error as much as something Sanderson did on purpose, for reasons not withstanding.

You might love it, you might hate it, but truly, give it a shot.  The Rithmatist is a young adult gem oozing with creative energy, comradery, and a sequel already in the works.

God bless, take a break, and always remember to smile.


“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

“Dead Man” – Wolves at the Gate



The Bottom Line




Cooper D Barham

Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'


  1. Daniel on January 2, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Awesome. Despite being a young teenagers book, I may have to check this one out.

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