Review — The Rithmatist

Finally jumping back into consistently listening to audiobooks, second on my list of things to catch up on was Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. If you know anything about the author, you’ll know that he loves inventing magic systems. This book is no different, but instead of taking place in his universe of the Cosmere, this one is a stand alone, alternate (steampunk) universe of our own. I would hesitate to call it an alternate history novel, because really the world is so different that it didn’t diverge at one point so much as being set on a planet similar in geography to earth. It’s a short book, at least as far as Sanderson novels go. It also doesn’t have a sequel, and to my knowledge the next one barely even has a title. It’s scheduled to release in 2017, but I see very little chance of that happening. I have no idea how many books he plans on putting into this series, but if its like any of his other series, it’ll be at least a decade before he finishes a third book.

In this book, the magic is chalk drawings. It’s easiest to imagine them as “summoning circles”, i.e. pentagrams or what have you, but that’s not their purpose. You draw a circle around you, and, if you’re fighting another rithmatist, you attack the opponent’s circle using chalk monsters called “chalklings”. Very few people in this world are rithmatists, in fact, and that culture seems to be very secretive and exclusive to non-rithmatists. Joel, the main character, is a normal student that loves the study of rithmatics, but isn’t a rithmatist himself. This, as you can probably guess, leads to some interesting conversations as he all but tries to be somebody he knows he can’t.

In regards to Brandon Sanderson’s works specifically, there isn’t really anything special about this book. The strangest thing about it is that it’s set in an alternate universe to our own, but the plot, characters, magic, etc., are all pretty typical of his work. that isn’t to say it’s not a good book, it simply didn’t have any awesome, inspiring, or impactful moments that I look for. (I’ve blogged about moments like this!) It doesn’t really have any huge plot twists, and the ending isn’t surprising. Not predictable, exactly, but not surprising either.

The interesting thing is, while this book didn’t knock my metaphorical socks off, I definitely want to read the next book. Pieces fell into place that I want to see to fruition, and the ending left me with questions I want answers to. Again, no huge plot twist (like the ending to every Mistborn book ever, the scale of which always makes me question my understanding of that entire world), but still. I like these characters, and if their personalities aren’t unique, their position and relationships to each other is something I want to see expanded on. Joel reminds me a lot of Tavi from The Codex Alera, since they have a lot of similarities, and I’d be interested to see if his story ends the same way Codex Alera does.

So while this definitely isn’t the first Brandon Sanderson novel I would recommend to somebody, it’s a strong book in its own right, and provides a good taste for Sanderson’s style without throwing somebody into the full force of the Cosmere.

Review — Dr. Strange

Being the newest release I’ve recently been introduced to, I’m going to try something new here and review Dr. Strange without spoiling it. Typically I don’t have to worry because I’ll review books or movies fifty (or more) years old, but I’ll have to make an exception here.

Simply put, I would say Dr. Strange is one of the best movies Marvel has released yet. As always, it has its issues, but there is so much that makes this movie awesome. And the best part? It’s a movie that stands apart from the rest of the MCU, so it won’t matter if you haven’t seen any of the other movies. With how many sequels are coming out these days (in the Marvel universe specifically), it’s a nice refresher to see entirely new characters this time.

I love everything Benedict Cumberbatch has done. I’d say the weakest role I’ve seen him in was in a newer Star Trek movie, but even that wasn’t bad. That said, this was a weird experience, because his accent is a little off-putting. I did get used to it as the movie went on, but for the first ten minutes his voice simply didn’t sound right. His character is very well done, though. I admittedly know little to nothing about Dr. Strange as he appears in the comics, but I liked what Benedict did with it in the movie.

This movie is also, without a doubt, the most heavily intensive special effects movie I have ever seen. My brother made a good (and accurate) point when he said that some parts of the movie were like they took the movie Inception and put it through a kaleidoscope. It ties a bit into a point I’ll elaborate on that it can make the movie difficult to follow, but as I’m well aware, there are parts that aren’t supposed to make sense to the audience. Also, seeing people fight with magic is awesome. The way magic is expressed in the movie is similar in some respects to how some styles of magic work in my own universe, so it’s interesting to see how it adapts to film.

Dr. Strange is full of awesome moments, great lines, and epic scenes. Pretty much every moment I wanted to see happen did (except for one that I can’t mention because spoilers), and while the plot is very predictable (it follows the Hero’s Journey very closely), it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

There are two (three) problems I had with the movie, though. The biggest one is that it can be hard to tell what’s going on. You never get any real idea on how much time is passing between any two scenes, which is a bit frustrating but not a huge deal. That also ties into what magic is happening. Now, the whole point with the magic is that its supposed to be difficult to follow (only masters of these arts can even comprehend), but it’s kind of evil to make me want to watch the movie a second time just so I can follow along more easily. It’s tough to tell the difference between the astral dimension, the mirror dimension, and the time dimension (is that a thing?) and I’m never fully clear on what rules apply where.

My last point (and this is really grasping for straws here, but I think the point is valid), this movie is too “easy”. There’s never any question as to what a character is going to do next because the only person that is dynamic is Strange, and because its his story you still know what he’s going to do. Perhaps the movie never tries to make you second guess your predictions because its too hard to follow to make any solid predictions. Maybe I’m just writing sentences that sound thought provoking and are completely wrong, but there could have been more character interactions that add more dynamic rather than everyone always having the same exact relationship to each other throughout the movie.

Overall, great movie. His accent is weird, but you get used to it. Also the magic is really hard to follow, but the plot is stable enough for you not to have to understand what’s going on. Go watch it.