In an alternate future where the United States is split into several island city-states, there exists a magical creature called a chalkling. Two-dimentional and vicious, these creatures will eat humans alive, threatening everyone’s existence, so much so that a whole discipline has evolved — that of the Rithmatists — and schools have been formed to train these people to defend the world against the chalklings.
It’s in this world that Joel — a son of a chalkmaker for a prestigious Rithmatist school — exists. Joel would love to become a Rithmatist, but he wasn’t “chosen,” and even though he has the skill and talent, he lacks one crucial element: the magic to make his drawings come to life. However, that hasn’t stopped Joel’s passion for Rithmacy and the history of how it came into being. Even though he’s shamed at school, he still devours the knowledge. Then, something — or someone — begins attacking the students, and it’s up to Joel and another not-so-great student, Melody, to work to figure out just what is going on.
I have to admit that at first, I wasn’t all that interested in this one. I didn’t quite get the world-building or the importance of the illustrations scattered throughout. But this one is worth the slog in the beginning. It takes a while, but as the mystery develops, things become more intense, and more about the Rithmastist world is explained, Joel and Melody come into their own. The final couple of showdowns are very much worth the while. And even though I called the mystery, there is a bit of a twist that I didn’t see coming, which was very satisfying. As I came to understand the illustrations and their role in the book, I found them at least as fascinating as the story.
While this is a first in yet another series aimed at kids, it does hold its own as a stand-alone, even though there are a few threads hanging. Overall, it is a fascinating world with a well-told story.
Rated: Mild; some talk of murders, some intense situations by the end and a mild romance.