Science Fiction Book Review: The Rithmatist

I’ve been a fan of science fiction and fantasy ever since I was introduced to the genre in my teenage years as a reluctant reader. Although I read more widely now, my favorite reads are still in science fiction and fantasy. Fantasy gets a lot of coverage and one unfortunate neglect is in the science fiction genre, particularly among Young Adult books. YA science fiction is lumped with fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, and all the other permutations of fantasy. Even my library has trouble identifying science fiction books from fantasy books. It’s disappointing trying to find a book list dedicated to YA Sci-Fi. So, I’ve decided to create my own.

Today’s post is on The Rithmatist.

The Rithmatist (May 2013) written by Brandon Sanderson is a YA science fiction released this year by Tor Teen. Sanderson is an epic fantasy writer for adults and his major works include The Wheel of Time and Mistborn series. The Rithmatist is his second foray into children’s lit (his first was the hilarious Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians).

The Rithmatist is the story of Joel Saxon, a young man studying Rithmatics, a form of rune writing with chalk where the pictures comes to life. Joel wants to be Rithamatist, but wasn’t selected as a youth and now spends all his free time studying Rithmatics. When students from Joel’s school go missing, Joel gets himself involved by working with the academy’s best Rithmatics professor, Professor Fitch. Joel sets off on a tale of mystery to discover the whereabouts of the missing students.

Despite what my brief summary suggests, The Rithmatist is a steam punk (more spring punk since steam technology is never used) alternate history mixed with fantasy. I’ve been a big fan of Sanderson since reading Mistborn and Alcatraz. Sanderson is brilliant with magic systems and he doesn’t disappoint with The Rithmatist creating a complex magic system that is unique and rich, complete with Rithmatic diagrams. If you are a strict science fiction fan (i.e. don’t like to mix your science and fantasy elements), you may not enjoy this book. However, Sanderson does a wonderful job mashing the genres and keeping the story true to steam punk works I’ve read previously. I loved the main character, Joel, who rings true as a nerdy scientist oblivious to the world around him. The story is a mystery, written with red herrings and twists that leaving you guessing until the end.

Overall, I give the book 4 out of 5 Starships and hope there is a sequel.


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