The Rithmatist

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Rithmatist Book Poster Image
Geometry-based steampunk fantasy with a touch of violence.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The system of magic devised by author Brandon Sanderson is geometry-based and very intricate, and some readers may find it deeply compelling.

Positive Messages

The Rithmatist emphasizes the importance of education and scholarship. The characters who succeed are those who apply logic and learning to the task at hand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joel Saxon wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist, and at first his ambition blinds him to the other ways in which he might prepare himself for his adult career. Although a sloppy student in any area that does not involve Rithmatism, Joel gradually sees the merits in applying himself to a broader education. Loyal to his mother and eager to help his disgraced mentor, Joel is brave in the face of adversity and resourceful when confronted by mortal danger.


Most of the violent mayhem in The Rithmatist is caused by "chalklings," two-dimensional, animated drawings that come alive and bite people. (They can be defeated by being doused with acid.) It's a somewhat absurd concept, but there are a couple chalkling attacks that are rather intense and gruesome. It's unlikely, though, that these scenes would disturb any but the most sensitive readers.


There is no sexual content. Joel and Melody are vaguely attracted to each other, but they do not engage in romantic behavior.


Characters use the word "dust" as a curse, but otherwise there is no objectionable language at all.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Rithmatist is a magic-filled fantasy novel that stresses in the importance of education and scholarship. Language and sexual content are nearly nonexistent, and there is no use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. The violent content is limited mostly to attacks by "chalklings," animated drawings that can bite people to death, and while these scenes are somewhat gruesome, they aren't enough to scare most older tween readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of an infant, 2, 6, 9, 11, and 13-year-old Written bybberry December 5, 2013

Smart, Clean, Page-turner

I loved this book! My 13 year old did too. Smart plot, interesting characters, and totally clean.
Teen, 13 years old Written bylitkarl April 13, 2018
Kid, 11 years old March 3, 2018

Really great!

Great book! I really enjoyed this book and is now one of my new favs. Great for kids that love horror but have hesitant parents. A little creepy and has a steam... Continue reading

What's the story?

Joel wants nothing more than to become a Rithmatist, a scholar/soldier able to work magic through chalk drawings, but he's not allowed to take the classes that would teach him their practices. But when Rithmatist students of the Armedius Academy begin disappearing, Joel joins forces with a disgraced professor and a reluctant female schoolmate to investigate the presumed kidnappings. Soon, he himself is a target, and he must solve a mystery with implications for all of the United Isles of America.

Is it any good?

THE RITHMATIST may be a fantasy with little middle ground for its readers. Many will find the intricate system of magic devised by author Brandon Sanderson and illustrated by Ben McSweeney completely enchanting. Others may find their eyes glazing over after pages and pages of discussions about drawing geometric figures and battling two-dimensional, animated critters known as "chalklings." Except for a brief prologue, even the chalklings are kept out of sight for the first three-quarters of the novel, leaving the book without a clear sense of suspense.

The steampunk-ish society that has arisen in the United Isles is full of potential, but Sanderson needs to up the narrative ante and cut down on the exposition if he wants readers to follow Joel and Melody into the next installment in this series.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the messages in the book. Why are poor students sometimes excluded from classes or activities that wealthier students are able to enjoy? What do you think the author intends by including this kind of issue in the novel?

  • After reading this book, do you have an opinion about whether it is better to focus all your efforts on mastering one particular field of study or developing skills in a broader range of subjects?

  • Is this the kind of book that teaches something educational? What, if anything, did you learn from reading this book?

Book details

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For kids who love sci-fi and dystopia

Themes & Topics

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