The Rithmatist (2013) is a young adult novel set in a fantasy version of our real world. The United States is instead a united group of islands using steampunk technology. Korea conquered Europe driving European refugees into those islands. Where they face a wild magic of two-dimensional chalklings held only at bay by the power of the Rithmatists.
The magical system is a star of this book, very inventive. Brandon
Sanderson has created a system so different to the normal magic in
other books, yet one logical and somehow natural. The book is adorned
with the drawings that Rithmatists use to express their power and
fight their battles. The magical system harks back to drawings on
cave walls, giving it an archetypal feeling.
The hero of the book is Joel, son of a late chalk-maker (the
Rithmatists use chalk to do their drawings). Joel yearns to be
a Rithmatist himself, can do their drawings better than many
actual Rithmatists, but does not have the spirit of magic in
him. Joel not being a Rithmatist himself is important to
the book remaining interesting, which makes his relationship
with other characters like Professor Fitch and Melody deeper
Most of the action of the book is set in a University which is
half academic, half Rithmatist magical. The social setting is one
with an aristocracy. The Rithmatists are privileged members of
society, the ones who keep the wild chalklings penned up by the
mysterious tower in Nebrask. Joel's story is clearly not finished
by the end of this first captivating entry in the Rithmatist saga.