THE RITHMATIST isn’t a great novel, but it’s not a bad one either — it’s just a quiet, likeable little story with a few flaws that kept me from falling in love with it.
The book tells the story of Joel, whose late father was a chalk maker and whose mother is a janitor at the private school for wealthy children that he attends. The school is home to both regular students such as Joel and Rithmatists, the highly secretive sect of students who are taught to use geometry and precise chalk drawings to fight the wild chalklings in Nebrask, a place where humanity has long been at war.
Though Joel was not selected as a Rithmatist, he remains fascinated by them, sitting in on their classes, studying their theory, and dreaming of becoming a scholar of their methods. After years of watching them from afar, Joel is pulled into their orbit when Rithmatic students begin disappearing, leading to an investigation led by Professor Fitch. With his knowledge of Rithmatic principles, Joel and his friend Melody, a Rithmatic student who has been assigned to Professor Fitch for tutoring, race against time to find the culprit before more students are taken.
Joel is a likeable protagonist, intellectual and curious in a slightly less hectic way than David from Sanderson’s Reckoners novels. His back-and-forth with Melody is charming enough, but the rest of the cast never really comes to life in any meaningful way. Likewise, the story is largely devoid of action until the climax. It isn’t boring, per se, primarily because the book is fairly short, but by the time things start ramping up the book is just about complete and Sanderson is setting things up for the next installment.
If you’re a Sanderson fan, I say go ahead and read THE RITHMATIC, if for no other reason than to bask once again in the brilliance of Sanderson’s world building. The rules for Rithmatics are interesting, and are probably the primary strength of the book.
If you’re looking for an entry point into Sanderson’s cosmere, I would recommend beginning with the Mistborn books, or even the Reckoners. It’s entirely possible that I’ll pick up the sequel to THE RITHMATIC just to see where the story goes, but I can’t say it meets the exceedingly high standard Sanderson has set with so much of his other work.