The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Monday, June 17, 2013

Alternate Archipelago America: Naomi

I have been ill with a non-specific ickiness for almost a week now.  It’s perhaps an outgrowth of my Benign Positional Vertigo, which sounds more fun than it is.  My mother, wonderful being, thinks it may be because I’ve been exercising too much.  Best.  Excuse. Ever!
Essentially, this means that I can’t move much.  You would be AMAZED at the amount of reading I have gotten done.  If I weren’t feeling nonspecifically icky, I would be quite pleased.  As it is, I really, really want to be able to stand up without feeling like I’m falling down. 

But the reading.  O the reading.  Since I can’t move, and reading doesn’t make me dizzy, it’s been a week of me, my bed, and whatever is on my bedside table.  The Dante I’ve been reading, though, has remained untouched this week.  I can’t handle dizziness and the fires of hell: it’s all too much.  The review of the GENIUS translation I’m reading will just have to wait. 
Instead, I give you the review of the GENIUS YA novel I finished.  In a day.  Because I can’t move.   And, you know, it’s really good.

My friend and fellow-blogger, The Serial Bookseller, recommended a new book by Brandon Sanderson, the fantasy wordsmith tapped to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series.  For me, Sanderson is hit or miss.  Mistborn: Awesome.  The rest of the Mistborn series: Hugely boring.  Elantris: Amazing.  Warbreaker: YAWN.  As for Sanderson’s ability to finish The Wheel of Time series, I stopped reading roundabout Book 7 (A Crown of Swords), when Jordan had been unable to pique my interest since Book 4 (The Shadow Rising).  But I digress.  The Serial Bookseller and I have this argument often.  He adores Sanderson.
In this case, he was right.  Yep.  I said it.  I said it out loud and in print: The Serial Bookseller was right.  (This will never happen again.) 

The Rithmatist is awesome.    It takes place in Alternate Archipelago America (henceforth known as AAA).   We don’t know why it’s an archipelago; there is no backstory; it just, geologically, is.  Each of our states is an independent island in AAA, so there’s a fascinating separatist atmosphere, which fits the vaguely Victorian vibe of the book as a whole.  And no, it’s not steampunk; it’s Victorian AAA fantasy.  To underline this separatist theme, we find out that all of Europe is under the rule of an Asian dynasty, and the Aztek Empire is still going strong.  Our little AAA is understandably shy of banding together, and the separatist politics do a nice job of dovetailing with the larger plot. 
On the central AAA isle of Nebrask exists a pernicious magical threat: wild chalklings, two-dimensional monsters (yep, made of chalk) that eat people alive.  They attack in swarms and munch on eyeballs and skin and things; they’re quite icky.  The can be held off by acid attacks (to dissolve the chalk), but they greatest defense against them is the, you guessed it, Gentle Readers, Rithmatists.  These Rithmatists are geometry-savvy magic-wielders who can draw their own chalklings and imbue them with life.  Then the good chalklings battle the bad ones.  Obviously. 

Rithmatists must be trained.  And Joel, our protagonist, is a scholarship student at an academy that trains Rithmatists, although he himself has no power.  He is, however, fascinated by Rithmancy, as was his father (a chalk-maker) before him.  Joel manages to talk his way into a summer internship with recently-humbled Professor Fitch, where he befriends an untalented Rithmatist named Melody.  The three of them are tasked with solving a string of puzzling disappearances.  Then magic and plot and stuff happens.  Read it yourself.     
Each chapter is preceded by a short lesson on Rithmatics, including why the geometry of certain defenses work, etc.  Now, Gentle Readers, I detest geometry with every fiber of my being, but as soon as it’s magical, somehow it becomes more interesting.  I almost cared about vectors while I was reading this book.  Almost. 

This book is an easy read.  It is not particularly challenging in format, language, or characterization.  It’s also written for 12-year-olds, so I allow some leeway.  It is, however, beautifully grounded.  The organization of the world, the history, and the science of the Rithmatic magic are really impressive.  This is the beginning of a series, and I am looking forward to the sequels. 
There were also more surprises than I expected.  One subplot did not resolve itself at all in the way I expected.  The villain is red-herringed like mad, and even once I thought I had it figured out, I was wrong.  Only in fiction, Gentle Readers, do I enjoy being wrong.  And Sanderson got me good.  *high five* 

I can see this series becoming quite popular if only the word gets out, and people refrain from comparing it to Harry Potter.  Yes, it’s magic; yes it’s a boarding school; yes, there’s a mean teacher who hates our protagonist.  That is where the comparison ends.  Do not pick up this book expecting Harry Potter.  But please do, Gentle Readers, pick up this book.  You’ll be glad you did, and for five minutes, you might even care about geometry. 

And right now you can order it in hardcover for $12.83.  Ye Gods, just buy it!


  1. Glad you liked it. Your review was scads better than mine though.

    And the 4th Mistborn book was MUCH better than the 2nd and 3rd.

    And I may have to screencap this for future reference. Me? Right? NEVER?

    And now I've said 'and' a lot. Oh well. Pbbbbbbbbbt. :P

  2. Thought the book was great. Thanks for the nudge. And I quite liked your review; it's why I bought the book!
    As for being right, don't get a big head there, buddy. It's the only time I'll ever tell you you're right (but at least it's in print)!