Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chalk And Circles

Picked up a book over the summer that had a very interesting premise that I felt could go very very well, or very very wrong.  Since the book involved chalk and a school as major components of the plot, I choose to read it when the school season started...'cause I'm weird that way.  Anyways the book is called The Rithmastist by Brandson Sanderson and apart from a few of my normal picky complaints I enjoyed it.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Our story is set in an alternate America where instead of a continent, we have islands...the map is actually super cool and one of the reasons I picked it up in the first place. Anyways, back to the story.  In this alternate America...which is set in an alternate world all together a menace called chalklings, two dimensional beings that swarm people and essentially eat them.  A defense has been devised by using a method of imbuing certain chalk circles with various types of defenses and then...well it's complicated and yet oddly in the book makes perfect sense.  Essentially the only people who can use this chalk power are people called Rithmatists, people who are chosen through some sort of pseudo-religious process when a child is eight years old.  The person is then trained in one of several academies along side the regular kids and then sent to the island of Nebrask where the wild chalklings have been contained for the most part.  This is very dangerous work and Rithmatists are partly revered, partly feared, and partly resented as they act very aloof and privileged.  The story itself
focuses on Joel, a boy who is at the academy along side the Rithmatist students.  He is obsessed with Rithamacy and can draw the circles better then anybody, but since he had to miss his inception due to his fathers death, he never got a change to be chosen as a Rithmatist so as good as his circles and drawings are, he can never actually use them.  He is working for a Rithmatist Professor Fitch over the summer and meets Melody, a wild, crazy, Rithmatist student who is also studying with Fitch for some remedial work on her circles.    The two of them assist the Professor in his investigation into a potential new menace.  Rithmatist students have been disappearing and the only clues are the terrified circles the students had drawn to try and protect themselves and odd marks through out the house and grounds.  Melody and Joel...after finally getting used to each other start to work together to try and figure out what is going on.  Melody also tries to help Joel by convincing the priest to let him "re-do" his missed inception.  He goes in, but he still does not become a Rithmatist (I love this, I'll tell you why in a bit).  After much research, events, madness, crazyness and back and forthness we finally figure out what in the heck is going on.  Turns out that at some point in his career both the main inspector AND a professor had been working on the defense of Nebrask and had gotten inside the circle.  When they came out, they were carrying a sort of shadow being inside their heads.  These shadow beings are the ones who had been kidnapping the students and turning them into wild chalklings.  The shadows had figured out that there are a limited amount of Rithmatists and for some mysterious reason a new one can only be chosen when an old one dies.  To this end, the shadows were turning the students into immortal, controllable chalkings that kept a new Rithmatists from coming into being.  The book ends with a unique collaboration between Joel and Melody that is just awesome, culminating in them winning a huge competition...and the promise of a second book.
If that didn't make any sense...well I really didn't expect it to.  This book is really hard to explain and in fact the book itself would be a bit difficult to follow if there were not these super great and simple illustration/diagrams in the beginning of every chapter.  I feel this added visual element clarified a lot of confusing concepts, making the book much more followable.  Ok, other then the pictures, what else did I like about the book?  Let's start with the characters.  Joel rocks it as a main character, he is layered and smart and still retains a bit of child like naivete mixed with an acceptance of his status that all combines with his obsession to make a complex yet relateable character.  And that totally sounded like a pretentious review description...sorry.  I like that Joel, while having some great talents...all
gotten by hard work and practice, he was never a super hero.  Even when he gets the chance to become a vaunted Rithatist, the author took the brave and awesome route of leaving him "ordinary".  This kept Joel from becoming one of those characters who just happens to be so talented that he can solve all the problems.  On the flip side we have Melody, who just makes me smile every time she is on the page.  She is loud, rude, attention seeking and at the center very good hearted.  She is a Rithmatist, but resents that her path has been chosen for her.  She sucks big time at all aspects of Rithmacy, except for the chalking creatures, which she excels at.  The other characters also have their various facets, making every person we read about interesting on some level or another.  One of the great things in this book is the various levels of cooperation between the characters.  Joel and Melody show this the best in the competition where Joel draws the circles and Melody traces over them and brings them to life.  We also see Professor Fitch work with the students, the head of the school work with pretty much everybody, all kinds of awesomeness.  I love it 'cause most books use conflict and misunderstanding to create interest, and this way of showing people use their talents and flaws to create awesome teamwork made me super happy.  World building in this book was both fantastic and infuriating.  Overall it was a complete world, with a history, customs, culture and whatnot.  We continually learn about this world (and it's awesomely unobtrusive steampunk elements) through out the story in many different ways.  That being said, we never really learn about what the chalkings are, exactly what it takes to become a Rithmatist (though it is hinted at) or why they even exist.  This is very annoying as it is kind of the center of the whole story!   That being said, even though I desperately want to know a full chalking history and all its details, the story and most of the world did not suffer from this lack of knowledge too much.  Overall I very much enjoyed this book for reasons that are difficult to describe.  I give it 8 out of 10 clockwork coins and can't wait to read the next one.  I recommend it to anybody who wants a non romance driven YA book, likes things that work, and want a great world experience.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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