Check out my review policy for a few disclaimers before proceeding.
Content warnings: mostly fake swearing, children kidnapped, other people murdered. Honestly, it’s tamer than G.A. Henty.
I wasn’t initially too enthused about a book where the magic consists of chalk scribblings, much less a mystery. Nevertheless, it was by Brandon Sanderson, and it was on the shelf at the library, so—why not?
The story follows a kid named Joel, who, despite his longings and the title of the book, is not a Rithmatist, a magic chalk mage-warrior person. He goes, nevertheless, to magic chalk mage-warrior person boarding school (it teaches other things), which is an interesting twist on the overdone magic school theme. He has the power to draw mathematical figures incredibly well, which would have been a great reason for God to pick him to be a Rithmatist, but that didn’t happen.
Oh, yes. God (called the Master) picks the Rithmatists, or is at least believed to, in a ceremony called inception. I’m of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Brandon Sanderson, a Mormon, handles religion very well, even make-believe religions. The Monarchical Church is nominally Christian, although Christ is never mentioned, perhaps not to scare people off. On the other, the theology of it is weird. I’d rather the book either pick being explicitly one religion or another than having it all up in the air.
Anyway, the plot consists of Rithmatist children disappearing mysteriously, with blood and mysterious chalk drawings on the ground. Joel, Melody the unwilling and mostly incapable Rithmatist (again, what was God thinking?), and Professor Fitch the Ex-Professor, must work together to find the culprit before it’s TOO LATE!!11!
Did I mention I’m not a fan of mysteries?
It would have helped if the certain bits of required knowledge of the magic system were properly explained. It is not mentioned that a Rithmatic line will not function if the intend behind drawing it is incorrect, until after they attempt to draw one of the aforementioned mysterious lines and fail, therefore concluding that it is not really a true line. Furthermore, the Forgotten, which are critical to the ending, are not explained at all by the book except for an off-handed mention earlier. I’d really rather have known that *SPOILER REDACTED* was possible before the conclusion.
And speaking of the conclusion, part of the denouement involves a conversation that stretched my suspension of disbelief. I can’t explain why, except to say that knowing who the real villain is, but being unable to convince anyone else, is pushing it.
This is mostly nit-picking, though. The magic was plausible, the characters unique, the plot intense, and I couldn’t stop reading it, even after my bedtime. Joel is easy to sympathize with, especially after—well, read the book. I give it one great blue heron of approval.