The Rithmatist

Reviewer: Katherine Ray

Author: Brandon Sanderson (Illustrator: Ben McSweeney)

Published: 2013

Reviewed: 2014-04-21

Publisher: Tor (US) Orion Children's Books (UK)

[Note that I read the UK copy of the book which unfortunately did not
have the world map.]

I really like Brandon Sanderson's books, and have high expectations
for him, which is why, I'm afraid, I'm going to go nit-picking again.

Sanderson is great at world-building. I picked up The Rithmatist
because the magic system is based off of Math and Cartoons. You can
draw lines that act as immovable walls, circles which act as (somewhat
moveable) defense, sine waves that shoot out and bounce off the
immovable walls like light does, and then you can draw cartoon
characters that go attack things. McSweeney's illustrations are
integral to understanding the magic system, and do the job well.

Unlike Warbreaker, I don't have too many criticisms of the magic
system. I would have loved to see more math. For example, there is
one illustration that implies that the cartoons are controlled like
Logo turtle graphics, but apparently if you draw well enough, you can
skip all that. Considering the audience is young adults, I should not
be surprised that the magic system was only taken this far. A bit
disappointed, but not surprised. There are hints that the magic will
become less mathematical in future, which I think would be a shame.

No, the nits I'd like to pick lie elsewhere.

First of all, the main character, Joel, is excessively naive. He's
about 16 (as is the female protagonist, Melody), so he has some
excuse, but most 16 year-old people I know are much, much, much more
politically aware than this kid is. He has far to many, "Gee,
politics affect things" moments. This is a recognized plot device --
having the main character learn things at the same time as the reader
-- but Joel seems to come from an especially head-in-the-ground
starting place. When his teachers and mentors explain intricacies of
how things work politically, he doesn't compare the new information to
his current store of information, but rather has a wide-eyed "I never
thought of that before" reaction. He does another amazingly stupid
thing, which probably counts as a spoiler so I'll put it below the
body of the review.

Second, the world is needlessly sexist. I can't believe that
Sanderson, creator of Vin of Mistborn, Sarene of Elantris, Siri and
Vivenna of Warbreaker, and Marasi of Alloy of the Law wrote
Drawer-of-Unicorns Melody. Girl-who-likes-pretty-things is an okay
character to have, but pairing her with only-good-at-math boy and then
letting the book fail the Bechdel test (more than one female
character, who talk to each other about something other than a man) is
just aggravating. There are three named female characters: Melody,
Florence and Mrs. Saxon (the mother of Joel). Florence says "you're
talking too much" to Melody twice, and Mrs. Saxon tells Melody about
her husband. In a world where the Koreans took over Eurasia and
trains run off of the power of springs, did there really need to be
people amazed that "there are women reporters now?"


So, what is the stupid thing Joel does at the end of the book? He
finds out who the sinister bad-guy is and confronts him saying "I know
you are the bad guy." He then proceeds to demonstrate to the bad guy
his exact level of skill with magic. Considering that the bad guy is
much more powerful than he, he's asking for more trouble than he can