The Rithmatist (Rithmatist, book one)
By Brandon Sanderson
Published 2013 by Tor Teen
Joel longs to be a Rithmatist, but, according to the ceremony, it's not meant to be. When Joel spots Melody, who seems to be wasting her chance to be a Rithmatist, he can't help but be annoyed with her. Soon, though, the two will have bigger things to worry about - Wild Chalklings are loose at their school and students are disappearing. Joel and Melody will have to work together if they want to stop terrible things from happening.
As I mentioned, I was a second round judge for the Cybils this year. This book was one of our finalists. Prior to its being named, I'd heard of it and thought the idea of a magic system routed in chalk drawings sounded really unique. I was thrilled when it became a finalist, giving me a reason to move it up in my reading queue.
In my reviews of other finalists (The Water Castle and Jinx), I've mentioned disappointment. I expected to like both those titles much more than I did. This book, though, I really enjoyed. I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with buzz - as in, this book received little to none. This means that I wasn't sure what to expect, other than I knew that Sanderson is kind of a big name in the world of adult speculative fiction. Despite my enjoyment of speculative fiction (it makes up the majority of what I read), I've never really been interested in Sanderson's work before. So I suppose you could say my expectations for this were relatively low.
In a way, I'm glad for that, because it means I got to enjoy this book without worrying about it disappointing me. In fact, on a personal level, I think this book was my second favorite of our finalists (I still can't stop thinking about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp). I think what I loved most about this book was the system of magic. It's incredibly inventive and definitely unique. As I mentioned, I read a lot of speculative fiction and it's not terribly often that I'm introduced to something new and unusual. Most of the time, I'm okay with that - after all, some of my favorite books rely heavily on standard speculative fiction tropes. On the other hand, it's nice to get something completely different every once in a while. It reminds you that there is no limit to what creative minds can imagine and create and thrills me that I'm lucky enough to visit the things they've imagined.
I liked the characters as well. Melody was particularly amusing but Joel was also very charming. I liked that they began the book not as friends, and I like that their relationship has (so far) not developed beyond friendship. It's always nice to see characters of different genders engaging non-romantically. I also think it's really interesting that Sanderson chose to introduce this complicated magical world through an essentially non-magical character. It gives Joel perhaps the best perspective of anyone in the book and makes him even more easy to relate to than if he had been magical too.
I did make a small note during my reading (which I have, of course, lost) of a description that I found slightly problematic. Sanderson is describing the physical appearance of a character and uses the phrase "Asian eyes" (I believe; once again, I've since misplaced my notes). This just felt a bit lazy and generalizing to me and, with all the recent discussion of diverse books for children, seemed worth mentioning.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this magic world and am eager to return to it when Sanderson publishes the next volume.