Because all of life is stories.
Nowadays when you walk into the teen section at a Barnes & Noble or whatever is local to you, it seems that there is a dearth of excellent fiction. Or at least a growing amount samey, been done before, romance novels for teens. But if you look hard enough, you can find that incredible and brilliant stuff is still there, and in good supply. And one such master I have already mentioned. His name is Brandon Sanderson.
Astute readers (So I’m guessing all of you, you clever people) will probably notice that I’m repeating authors again this week. Sanderson is the author of the Mistborn series that I so favorably reviewed several weeks ago. This week we’re talking about Sanderson’s newest novel, and his first foray into teen fiction, The Rithmatist.
The Rithmatist is a classic boarding school story of two young students on a journey of self discovery, set in the backdrop of a murder mystery and a magic school in alternate history America. In Sanderson’s world, America is an archipelago of dozens of islands, and on the central island of Nebrask (Not a typo) a war rages. This war is not fought between men, but men and wild chalklings. The chalklings are two-dimensional monsters, being held at bay by The Rithmatists. These Rithmatists have in them the ability to conjur their own chalkings, and to fight the wild monsters. They are trained across the country, the world in fact, at boarding schools. Much like the one our protagonists attend.
Joel is the son of a chalk maker, his mother works at the University and Joel attends for free. But Joel isn’t a Rithmatist. Like many, he doesn’t have the gift. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for a chance at it though. Melody is a Rithmatist, albeit a struggling one. She’s got a flair, an attitude, but she really isn’t all that good at Rithmatics. When Joel and Melody become a research assistant and remedial student to Professor Fitch (The man in charge of solving an abduction on campus) both of their lives will take a turn toward the dramatic.
Like the rest of Sanderson’s novels this one is defined by it’s strong plot, fascinating and complex world, and incredibly imaginative and detailed magic system. In between every chapter is a short lesson on a facet of Rithmatics, from the theory behind chalkings to what types of attacks and defenses are best used to combat them. With this being the first of a series we get the hint that there is much more to the practice of Rithmatics that we, and indeed the characters don’t actually know about. The history of a world where the United States is a series of independent isles in an archipelago, where the Aztec’s still reign, and where all of Europe has been conquered by an East Asian dynasty is utterly wonderful, and I hope and pray we get to see and learn more about the past as the series builds.
Hearing the words ‘magic boarding school’ and ‘teen fantasy novel’ nowadays is always going to bring some sort of comparison to Harry Potter, or the more recently successful Percy Jackson to a lesser extent. It definitely holds up. In fact, I enjoyed it every bit as much as any of the early Harry Potter novels. By the time the series is over, if it continues to be as good as the first book, might be even better. The Rithmatist should be a bestseller for a very very long time, and I hope that everyone comes to enjoy it as I have. It’s one of those books that you read in bed and say, “One more chapter” then end up finishing the book four hours later. It’s one of the books that you’ll read until the cover frays and rips, and you’ll love it more and more every time. I was a bit worried when I heard one of my favorite authors was writing a teen book, but now I haven’t the slightest idea why. The Rithmatist is going to be a standard recommendation for anyone coming into my store. It’s the least I can do for the experience Sanderson has provided.