|This is book one in a series, which the cover doesn't warn one about but which I kind of take for granted about Sanderson books by now. Like most Sanderson novels, it stands reasonably well on its own. It's YA gearpunk fantasy, set in an alternate Earth around the turn of the twentieth century. The magic system is based around chalk drawings, and the book is charmingly illustrated by Ben Sweeney with diagrams and other depictions of the magic. Worth reading in hardcover.|
I didn't find the central mystery very engaging, and I figured it out by being genre-savvy rather than following the clues, which is eh. This is about my only complaint in the book. I enjoyed the relationships between the teenage main character and the adults around him, which were an excellent mix of "adults providing guidance" and "adults actually listening" with a dash of "adults being clueless" that was always understandable in context. In general, I loved that the teenager would (a) share his suspicions with sensible adults and (b) the adults would respond in a serious manner. The story is set at a school and you get the sense of faculty and student working together to help the student achieve his academic goals, and I found that enjoyable and authentic. The relationship between the main character and the other teenage protagonist was also well-handled, including some friction at the start not only to create interest but to establish the characters, and then allowing a believable friendship to develop out of it. The book has two climaxes; the later one feels almost like an afterthought and doesn't really involve the main plot, but is nonetheless brilliant.
The central mystery is a series of abductions/possible murders, but the tone is more light-hearted than that would suggest. If you've been avoiding the other Sanderson series that I've recommended because they sound too grim, this would be a good one to start with. The world as a whole seems like an interesting place to live and one that's pleasant for most of its inhabitants. I'll give the book a 9.
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