The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson was recommended to me by my son Daniel, who loves nothing better than a multi-volume epic fantasy saga set in a complex and engrossing world. Sanderson, famous for writing such tomes himself and even taking on the completion of epic fantasies begun by another author, simplifies his usual style in this book aimed at the Young Adult market. Although it is the first in an intended series, it's easy to get into and quick to read if you're a distracted teen, mom, or teacher who has no time at the present for slow-moving epics. I read it back in August but this is the first real book review I've done in awhile because, well, Pinterest has made it much more challenging to embed pins on one's blog and I have only just (maybe) figured it out.
Joel, the young hero, is an under-performing student whose one dream in life has already been crushed - he wanted to become a Rithmatist, a sort of wizard who engages in dueling by drawing chalk figures that come to life; but he missed his chance of being chosen at a mystical "inception" ceremony and is now too old, seemingly destined for a sub-par career and a life of poverty. But all that changes when mysterious events at Armedius Academy transpire and Joel is thrown together with the Rithmatic students and professors. He befriends Melody, a rather annoying girl who is underachieving for her own reasons, but has a knack for drawing chalkling unicorns. Together they seek to find the cause of the attacks on students that are somehow linked to alarming events in the larger world -- the mysterious tower in Nebrask.
Like all recent YA fantasies, this book is obviously indebted to Harry Potter, but the "school story with a twist" actually reminded me more of the Pixar film Monsters University, with its overall lighthearted feel. This is also a good introduction to the related genres of "steampunk" and alternate history. Without being hackneyed or derivative, though: Sanderson has plenty of invention of his own. The illustrations by Ben McSweeney contribute nicely to the feel of the book, and there is no objectionable material or disturbing violence. Look closely and you may be able to detect echoes of some Mormon theology, perhaps. I found it a bit odd to see the suggested discussion questions and book report project ideas at the back -- but Daniel assures me this is standard procedure these days. I guess fantasy lit has come a long way if its authors now plan ahead for their books to be school assignments! Back in my day, there was a bit of a stigma if you read this type of fiction. I'm glad that's changed, but I'm not sure I'd kill the enjoyment of a book like this by turning it into an assignment. A fun, different, refreshing read with potential for more enjoyment to come.