The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson has started up yet another sprawling epic series. Dude must have quite a mind. This one is YA and not really as dark as some of his other stuff. I thought the magic system was bizarrely improbable (even for a fantasy series) and I wasn't sure I was going to read the whole thing, but then I did. I got into it by about halfway through.
The premise: Joel, teen boy, is a charity student at the prestigious Armedius Academy. He's an outsider, and he's obsessed with Rithmatics, the geometrical magic that only a few can perform. Rithmatists attend special classes and hold themselves aloof from the others. Over the summer, Joel meets Molly, a Rithmatist student who is as much of an outsider as he is. When young Rithmatic students begin disappearing from their homes, Joel and Molly have to learn to get along and use all their talents to figure out what's going on.
So, kind of formulaic, but Sanderson does a good job with it. I really liked that most of the adults at the school are good folks who are doing their best for the students and the school. None of them are bumbling idiots and the teenage protagonists work with the adults. Joel is a hilariously typical teenage boy, who doesn't see the point in doing well in his classes if he doesn't like them and who comes up with weird schemes to get what he wants. The principal reacts by asking him to just come and ask next time, and Joel's professor mentor is given a great opportunity to point out exactly why it is worthwhile to pay attention in school. Hee hee.
The magic system: Sanderson specializes in elaborate magic systems. This one is based on geometry, which I think is really neat. Everything happens in chalk drawings on the ground, which then come to life--that's the bit I had a difficult time swallowing. The origins and reasons for Rithmatics are still pretty obscure, so it might get interesting. But Rithmatics is the only defense against the truly dangerous, but enigmatic, creatures that wish to destroy Joel's society. The war is a permanent part of the background, but it's all rather secret. Much more goes on than ordinary people realize.
The setting: this is an alternate-universe setting, like our world but tweaked a bit. The North American continent is a group of allied but independent islands which were mysteriously empty when Europeans arrived (this is going to be the central mystery of the series, I'm pretty sure). South America is run by the Aztek Empire. Europe was conquered a couple hundred years ago by Koreans commanding an Asian empire, so all of Eurasia is under the JoSeun Empire. Technology has also developed differently and everything is clockwork, so there is a steampunky flavor to it. Quite fun.
It's very nicely illustrated too. I really enjoyed the chapter heading illustrations.
My 13-year-old read it twice in two days and says it's awesome. I enjoyed it too. Give it to your bored teenager.