Sanderson’s first novel for the young adult set is a fascinating, fun introduction to a promising series. Joel is a likable hero whose impressively quick thinking and astonishing breadth of understanding of Rithmatics is tempered by typical teenage flaws — self-absorption, tactlessness — so he never slips into unbelievability. And Sanderson supplies his young protagonist with the perfect foil in the effervescent Melody. While the history of Rithmatics (fleshed out by Ben McSweeney’s illustrations) is intriguing, the fellowship between Joel and Melody remains the most compelling aspect of the novel. With any luck, their odd-couple friendship will continue to play a central role as the series progresses.
For most of his 16 years, Joel has been fascinated by Rithmatics — a mystical, military method of attack and defense performed by drawing chalk circles that take on magical properties. Unfortunately, while Joel’s status as the son of staff members at Armedius Academy, a Rithmatist training school, earns him a tuition-free education, his lack of natural Rithmatic ability forces him to study normal subjects with other non-Rithmatist students. But when a series of apparent kidnappings of gifted young Rithmatists rocks the campus, Joel, his new friend Melody and their teacher, Professor Fitch, make some unexpected discoveries as they try to unmask the culprit. (TOR TEEN, May, 384 pp., $17.99)