The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson has an interesting premise. In the fantasy world Sanderson has created, United Isles, rithmatists use geometric shapes drawn with chalk to battle. The story takes place at a Rithmatic Academy, where rithmatists and regular students both study. Joel is the son of the chalk maker, who died a tragic death, but he is not a rithmatist. However, he longs to be one.
A mystery unfolds when a rithmatic student is kidnapped and attacked in an unusual manner. Joel gets swept up into solving the mystery along with a professor, a police inspector, and a fellow student, Melody, who is a rithmatic. The mystery has ties to politics, history, and traditions.
Sanderson is famous for his epicly long sagas. Fortunately, this one clocks in at only a few hundred pages and is a quick read. The world is very detailed and the mystery is not obvious. It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but the second book in the series has yet to be published. Being a steampunk fan, I liked the clockworks elements in the story. The trains are powered by clockwork and the local currency are coins with clockworks in them.
I really liked the characters. Both Joel and Melody are not doing well at school, for Joel because he is lazy and for Melody because she just can’t draw a straight line (critical when geometry is your weapon.) The supporting characters are well drawn with good back stories, including Joel’s mom and other teachers, staff, and administrators at the academy.
The Rithmatist is considered a YA novel. I think teens and adults would both enjoy it (appropriate for middle school students – as it contains no bad language or sex).