As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.
Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world. Quoted from Goodreads
First there's the magic system. Who thought chalk drawings and cave paintings could be scary? If someone said chalk figures would be horrible and a magic system that basically only fought those little chalk monsters would be fascinating I probably would have laughed, but Bandon Sanderson totally pulled it off. Seriously, this is such a unique idea. So while there may be some elements that remind the reader of Harry Potter (school of magic; plucky girl side-kick; nefarious-seeming professor who everyone says is good, albeit annoying; etc.) the magic system is so different, it comes across as totally and completely different and unique.
Then there's the world itself. It's half re-imagined American history, half steampunk. Everything is wound from their trains to their clocks and lanterns. Plus the US is a conglomeration of 60 islands, similar but different from the states.
As for the characters, I really liked them. Joel is basically this world's equivalent of a Muggle who wants to be a rithmatist, and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious. The magic system is half geometry, half art (which could have been boring but totally isn't), and he, as much as anything, makes the magic system fascinating and cool.
Then there's Melody and Prof. Fitch. Both are excellent side characters. They absolutely have their problems and personality quirks, but they both get their well-deserved moments of heroism. They also help compliment Joel in different ways, shaping the person you know he could be.
The book actually starts off a little bit slow, but by the end you can't put it down. Everything comes together, the mystery builds and builds to a perfect climax, and then an amazing ending. Almost everything sort of wraps up yet leaves you dying for the next book. The villains in this book are excellent. They're fascinating, and absolutely everything you did and didn't see coming (don't read too much into that statement. I just really loved the bad guy in this book and how everything played out).
All in all, if you're looking for a great book, this is it. It's a great introduction to Brandon Sanderson's other works, and while it's solidly in the YA/middle grade world, it's the sort of book anyone could enjoy. It's an excellent 4.5 stars for me, with a good chance of being bumped higher in the future. So to sum this all up, you need to read this book.