Brandon Sanderson, The Rithmatist

Orion, 2013, ISBN 978-1444009538

Joel is the son of a dead chalk-maker. He shares a tiny room with his mother, a cleaner at the prestigious Armedius Academy. He studies there thanks to the principal’s friendship with his father, but he has no friends, and he certainly isn’t one of the elite. They are the students studying to be Rithmatists. Joel is obsessed with the magical, mathematical art that is at the heart of Rithmatics, an art that enables its proponents to do battle through elaborate chalk drawings. Joel sneaks into as many Rithmatist lessons as he can get away with. He learns the techniques quickly, and longs to know more. He would love to be a Rithmatist, but to be one you have to be selected at eight, and he wasn’t. His abilities lead an elderly professor to teach him extra skills and take him on as an assistant over the summer. As a result, when a killer starts a terrifying campaign of violence against Rithmatists, Joel is on hand. Suddenly his life becomes very adventurous and very scary.

Sanderson has created a detailed fantasy world, with new geo-political states, a complex social structure, and an intricate art of war. Every chapter starts with a diagram explaining a battle tactic. Lovers of fantasy fiction and of war-gaming will lap this up. But others will enjoy it too. The characters are far from the ciphers of some fantasy novels - Joel’s fellow-student Melody is particularly interesting - with individual personalities, motivations and responses to challenge, and the plot has genuine excitement, with plenty of twists and turns. This is Sanderson’s first foray into teenage fiction. It won’t be his last. Sequels are already planned, which will make lots of readers very happy.