I’d just finished a rather intense read and was away on a weekend break, so I wanted something a bit lighter. Browing through my Kindle, I came upon this offering and dived right in. I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.
I was looking for a school adventure with a bit of a difference, but to be honest, I hadn’t expected too much of this one, so was absolutely delighted when it delivered a really enthralling read with a fabulous premise. In this alternate fantastic world, Rithmatists are those who are able to attack and kill using chalk drawings. Their chalklings are able to strip the flesh from bones, cause fires and destroy. Sanderson’s straightforward, flowing prose quickly drew me into this world, where Joel is obsessed by the geometric designs that will keep the chalklings at bay.
Joel is a scholarship student whose rather blinkered approach to his studies means that he is regularly in trouble with his tutors. And while he isn’t necessarily bullied or hassled (which I liked, because it made a very nice change), neither is he ever invited home during the holidays to stay at the families of the rich and powerful. Being the son of the school cleaning lady means he isn’t well connected enough.
I liked his lack of self pity, as he deals with this dynamic, and his rather spiky character. The supporting cast are also well done – there is a pleasing mix of adults, so that while some are not particularly sympathetic or kind, there are a number who are all of those things. But the relationship that rolls this lovely story forward is his friendship with Melody. While Joel would give anything to be a Rithmatist, Melody hates her gift as it forces her into a life she resents and fears. Not surprisingly, this dynamic creates a lot of sparks between these two and I loved that it wasn’t a relationship that ever settles down into something easy and straightforward. She is also a strong, vibrant character with a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to draw cute unicorn chalklings.
As for the story – well, that’s a doozy! I had, of course, realised the identity of the antagonist creating all the havoc and kidnapping the promising young Rithmatists, until it became apparent that I’d got it completely wrong… The pages flew by as I was gripped by the plot, desperate for Joel and the kindly professor to succeed.
While the main puzzle is solved, the conclusion clearly sets this one up to be followed by another book, which so far hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s a real shame – and I’m glad I didn’t know the second book hadn’t appeared before I tucked into this one, or I might never have started it. And if I hadn’t done that, then I would have missed out on one of my most entertaining, quirkily clever reads of the year so far. Highly recommended, even if the second book isn’t available…