Read more 2016 Caudill reviews.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. Read by Michael Kramer. Macmillan Audio, 2013.

Joel is the chalkmaker’s son at Armedius Academy. Here the elite children are the rithmatics students who practice drawing magical geometric chalk drawings to eventually protect the citizens of the United Isles at the Tower of Nebrask, where wild chalkings are attacking and trying to get loose. If chalklings escape, they will eat the flesh and eyes of any person they come into contact with. Joel wants more than anything to be a rithmatist, but he failed his inception and is a lowly servant son. While delivering messages to teachers on campus, he hangs around Professor Fitch’s classroom trying to soak up the lessons.

One day, a new tutor comes in and challenges Fitch to a chalk duel and wins, thereby replacing him as a rithmatics professor and relegating Fitch back to tutelage of failing geometry students. The new professor’s name is Nalizar and he just returned from the battlefield of Nebrask. The students become enamored with him, but Joel thinks there’s something evil about him, not to mention that no one is impolite enough to actually challenge a professor, even though it is a rithmatic tradition and right.

Meanwhile, rithmatic students are starting to disappear. This puts the Academy in danger of shutting down and puts an even more negative light on the elitism and stigma of being a rithmatist. People are afraid of their power and don’t think they deserve the life-stipend they receive after Nebrask.

Melody, a failing rithmatist is assigned to be tutored by Fitch. She is outstanding at drawing chalklings that are detailed and behave better than normal (even if they are girly unicorns). But, she can’t draw straight lines or unwavering circles to save her life (literally). And Joel gets assigned as a research assistant to Fitch. Joel is great at drawing the geometric parts, but can’t make his chalk come to life because he is not a rithmatist. They balance each other. The two start off like quarreling siblings, but soon become friends as they unravel the mystery and eventually have to fight for their lives because of it. The twists are horrifying and insanely suspenseful. The back story is believable, keeps us on track, and lends well to the twist at the end. There’s even a melee, chalk competition, similar to the Quidditch match in Harry Potter (but better, sorry Harry).

This was a riveting fantastical mystery bolstered by a strong narrator. Nalizar sounded like Snape from Harry Potter, commanding and condescending. It definitely got my alarm bells ringing at the sound of his voice. Fitch is an old man with a wavering voice, wise yet unsure of himself. Melody is a rebel, yet other than brusqueness, there is not much to intone this. Although the text probably didn’t need help, the pacing is handled expertly by the narrator.

I loved how the book literally makes geometry come to life. I felt like I was in Harry Potter but with chalk, glyphs and drawings rather than wands and spells. It was strategic. A strategy of defense is named, drawn and explained at the beginning of each chapter. We learn how to defeat enemy chalklings as we read. Who knew chalk could be so exciting?

I’m so sad the sequel doesn’t come out until 2017.