In the right hands, a piece of chalk is defense against evil; in the wrong hands, it's war on humanity; in Joel's hands, it's just chalk, no matter how much he longs to be a Rithmatist. When a schoolmate suggests that his dream is indeed possible, he leaps at the chance, right into a puzzle of kidnapping and conspiracy.
Joel is more interested in the Rithmatics lines that his late chalkmaker father studied than in his regular classes at Armedius Academy. Joel was sure that he'd be chosen as a Rithmatist at age 8, but events interfered with that. Who wouldn't want to be able to defend the United Isles against the flesh-tearing Wild Chalklings with careful strategy and magic chalklines? The ability was granted to so few...
A new Rithmatist just back from the frontier of Nebrask displaces Prof. Fitch, ending the fourteen-year-old's hopes of learning more about these arcane arts, for Prof. Nalizar is even more disdainful of 'common' students than the academy's Rithmatics students (if such a thing is possible). Only Melody will speak to Joel as they spend summer term with Prof. Finch - she in remedial studies (her chalklings are stunning; her circles too wobbly to defend anything) and he as research assistant.
When an older Rithmatics student disappears, gossip says Lilly just ran away, but bloodstains and chalkling-attacked defense lines in her room tell another story. Inspector Harding of the national police arrives on campus to investigate, and Prof. Finch is given the task of uncovering any possible rogue Rithmatists.
Another advanced Rithmatics student vanishes, leaving signs of a chalk battle behind - now parents are worried, newspaper reporters clamor for details, and the investigative team at Armedius struggles to piece together the clues.
Is it mere coincidence that Prof. Nalizar arrived just before Lilly vanished? Are the odd chalklines found at disappearance sites new Rithmatic lines of power? Will the kidnapper strike again?
In his first novel for young adults, Brandon Sanderson unveils a brilliantly imagined alternative world where Korea's JoSeun empire has invaded Europe and the Americas are many islands in a shallow sea, where machinery runs on clockwork instead of internal combustion and fear of the Wild Chalklings' escape from Nebrask drives the Rithmatists' training, where mere fragments of simple chalk stand between chaos and civilization. Ben McSweeney's illustrations of Rithmatics lines enhance descriptions of the defenses, duels and battles, while readers can only hope that the Chalkling attackers that he draws stay firmly on the pages. First in a series that promises more adventure, magic, and treachery.
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA – blogging young adult books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.com