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The main character of the novel. The son of a cleaning lady and a chalkmaker, Joel is neither the son of powerful or influential people nor, to his great regret, a Rithmatist. He attends Armedius Academy due to a scholarship granted to him by Principal York after his father's death eight years previous to the beginning of the book.
- Ascended Fanboy: Gets to participate in the Melee (the annual Rithmatic mass duel), if only as Melody's support.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Feels like this with Finch sometimes, when forced to do archival work. As he puts it in his head, the Master certainly didn't mean for him to be a clerk.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: A schoolboy variety, with Melody. He comments several times during the book that she would be quite pretty - if she weren't so annoying.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: He's quite bright, and is in fact something of a savant when it comes to math and Rithmatic theory, but his obsession with Rithmatics leads him to neglect other coursework - he's failed at least one course every semester since he started at the Academy.
- Disappeared Dad: Died 8 years ago after a railroad accident. Joel's mother lets slip that it might not have been an accident.
- Fanboy: Joel obsesses over Rithmatics, and is actually better at both drawing Rithmatic figures and strategizing than most of the students. It's a shame he doesn't actually have any Rithmatic power himself...
- The Friend Nobody Likes: He has a lot of acquaintances, but very little friends, and high-born and Rithmatic students ostracize him.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Has a brief bout of this after his second initiation fails.
- Hyper-Competent Sidekick: To Melody during the Melee. He's much better than her in Geometric Magic, so she simply draws over his lines.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Obsesses over Rithmatic theory, partially due to his own father's interest in the subject. His biggest regret is that he can't actually use what he knows - he has no true Rithmatic ability.
- Missed the Call: Joel could have been a Rithmatist, but something happened to keep the process from happening properly… both times.
- Occult Detective: He has great aptitude to analysis of a Rithmatic crime scene, to the point that Harding suggests he should become an investigator.
A red-haired Rithmatist the same age as Joel. While she's an excellent artist (and thus exceptional at using Lines of Making to summon chalklings), she's VERY poor at the geometric aspects of Rithmatics - so poor, in fact, that she winds up in a remedial course with Professor Fitch over the summer.
- Alliterative Name: Melody Muns.
- Animal Motifs: Unicorns, unicorns everywhere!
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: A schoolboy variety, with Joel (or at least, that's where it seems to be developing).
- Blessed with Suck: Melody sees her Rithmatic gift this way. See I Just Want to Be Normal, below.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: She sometimes comes across as this, having sudden outbursts of "tragic!" and comparing ice cream to a religious virtue. She also comes to conclusion that Joel is stalking her based on the fact that he - a person living on the Academy grounds - appears in several places she - a student - is at the time.
- Drama Queen: The fact that we have to list this trope is tragic! She has quite a habit of bringing other people's attention to herself and believes her best tactic of dealing with people to be throwing tantrums.
- Girly Girl: Her defensive chalklings are unicorns, which she doodles alongside castles instead of taking notes, describing them as an "elegant and noble creature" whenever Joel speaks against them. She also mentions wanting to use pink chalk.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Melody resents her Rithmatic powers, which she never asked for, because it means she's essentially been conscripted to train to fight the Wild Chalklings, and she doesn't actually have much skill at drawing defenses or strategizing. In this, she acts as a perfect Foil for Joel.
- Took a Level in Badass: A minor example, but halfway through the novel Joel shows her an exotic strategy that takes full advantage of her incredible skill with chalklings while minimizing the damage caused by her problems with the other lines.
- Tsundere: Again, seems to be going here with Joel.
- The Unfavourite: Not explicitly stated, but strongly implied, due to her lack of skill compared to her older siblings.
Professor FitchOne of Armedius Academy's foremost Rithmatics professors. A scholar, teacher, and historian rather than a warrior, Fitch doesn't have the nerves to be much of a combatant, but he's a brilliant theorist.
- The Ace: His defences are pretty much perfectly executed when he has the head on his shoulders.
- The Cavalry: Helps rescue Melody and Joel from the Scribbler in the final confrontation. It's exceedingly awesome.
- Cool Teacher: Said to be one of the best theory teachers in school, and much less strict than others. He's also the only one who doesn't mind Joel sitting on the lessons.
- Dual Wielding: The climax has Fitch with a piece of chalk in each hand. It's more badass than it sounds.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Gentleman, and Rithmatics theorist.
- The Mentor: Older? Check. Teaches the protagonist? Check. Not the hero? Check (mostly, see above).
- Nervous Wreck: Turns into one when he's forced to duel rather than theorize.
- Not a Morning Person: When Joel wakes him up in early morning, Fitch is unusually grumpy and almost hostile to him.
- Papa Wolf: A harmless duel for his reputation? His hand shakes so much he can barely draw a line straight. His two students are in danger of being eaten? He leaps head-first into swarm of deadly chalklings.
Professor Andrew NalizarAn ambitious new Rithmatics professor. Tall, handsome, and arrogant, he tends to rub almost everybody the wrong way - especially Joel, who immediately suspects him when unusual events start taking place.
- Affably Evil: When Joel realizes he was the mastermind behind the Scribbler plot, he drops the Jerkass Façade, calmly admits it (while noting Joel won't be able to prove it, and would look like an idiot trying), explains a few other minor plot points, and even apologizes to Joel for repeatedly failing to recognize him.Nalizar: I have trouble telling the difference between those of you who are not Rithmatists, you see. You all look so alike.
- The Chessmaster: Arranged for the entire plot of the first book to happen in order to gain trust and authority at Armedius, thereby putting himself in charge of the training of the next generation of Rithmatists to be shipped out to Nebrask.
- Dead All Along: The real Professor Nalizar died in Nebrask.
- Expy: of Professor Snape. Arrogant, cruel, very powerful at his magic, always suspiciously seeming to be involved in the bad things going on, and yet held to be above suspicion by the authority figures. In the climax, Joel catches him red-handed, mixed up deeply in the attack on the school, and douses him with chalk-destroying acid, only to find that the real bad guy is the federal investigator, and Nalizar was trying to fight him off. Climactic chalk-battles ensue, and in the end, he's defeated, and Joel has to admit that Nalizar really was a hero and a good guy after all... only to discover, a few days later, that there were two villains, and Nalizar helped take down his compatriot so as to establish himself as above suspicion in the very organization that is training the people who will be fighting the bad guys.
- Fantastic Racism: He's big on the idea of total separation of Rithmatists and non-Rithmatists, but it seems to be an act, given The Reveal - it's likely he's been using this to put a wedge between people and their protectors.
- Good Is Not Nice: Subverted, Double Subverted, and then triple subverted. Ultimately averted entirely: Nalizar isn't actually Good at all.
- Hot Teacher: Melody certainly thinks so.
- Intrigued by Humanity: The creature using Professor Nalizar's body is observing humans, and was ultimately trying to stop new Rithmatists from being created so that they'll be helpless against the wild chalklings, forgotten shadows and whatever powers are controlling them.
- Worthy Opponent: Once he finally sees Joel fighting in the Melee he seems to upgrade him to this status.
Inspector HardingThe Federal Inspector assigned to investigate the disappearances at Armedius. A stiff but well-intentioned man still adjusting to life away from the front lines at Nebrask.
- By-the-Book Cop: More than technically necessary, due to his military experience.
- Demonic Possession: By one of the Forgotten Shadows.
- The Killer in Me: At day, he's himself, and working hard to hunt down the Scribbler. At night... he is the Scribbler.
- Living Shadow: His form as the Scribbler.
- Manchurian Agent: Due to the above-mentioned possession. Unlike Nalizar, he seems not to be completely taken over - he's himself during the daytime, and once he's exorcised he seems fine.
- The Mole: For the Forgotten Shadows.
- Red Baron: The Scribbler, or, as press nicknames him, "The Armedius Killer".
- Serial Killer: Thankfully, it turns out he's a serial kidnapper, not killer, though what he does to students could count as Fate Worse Than Death.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: He was a soldier at Nebrask and still has troubles adjusting back to semi-civillian life.
- Verbal Tic: Calling people "soldier".
FlorenceOne of the clerks in Armedius's office building. A friend of Joel's mother and a bit of a gossip, which makes her a useful, if somewhat hazardous source of information.
- Clerk: Her job in Armedius.
- Girly Girl: While she's not into pink and unicorns like Melody, her chipper behaviour and use of words "sweet", "adorable", "charming" and the like brings this to mind.
- Gossipy Hens: A singlular example, but she manages to carry the entire trope by herself. Her role in the story is mostly to annoy Exton and pass on gossip.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Exton - she treats him like a humorless fuddy-duddy and delights in distracting and annoying him, but is one of his foremost advocates when he's accused of being the Scribbler.
ExtonThe other clerk in the Armedius office. Portly, mostly humorless, but secretly fond of Joel and Florence.
- Big Damn Heroes: He's the first and only one to come to Joel's aid when the latter's assaulted by the Scribbler.
- Boomerang Bigot: Underplayed, but he dislikes Rithmatists despite being one.
- Clear Their Name: The subject, rather than the one working to do the clearing.
- Clerk: Works as this in Armenius.
- Fall Guy: Harding frames him as the Scribbler.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tries to keep up the Jerkass facade, but it's clear he cares for Joel and Florence.
- Nervous Wreck: Panics pretty much immediately upon realizing what's going after them.
- A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: What Harding tries to convince the professors he is. Exton used to study at Armedius, but failed because he couldn't control his chalklings.
- Red Herring: He's actually 100% innocent of the crimes.
- The Resenter: He's quite bitter about failing Armedius, and dislikes Rithmatists in general.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Florence - he constantly complains about her interruptions and annoyances, but is glad to see her once he's released from prison.
- Wake Up Make Up: Implied; when Joel wakes him up in the middle of the night, Exton is perfectly dressed and groomed.
Principal Thomas YorkThe head of Armedius Academy, York is a brilliant administrator and a kindly man. He is friends with Professor Fitch and was once friends with Joel's father, and thus is somewhat softer with both than another administrator might be.
- Badass Bureaucrat: He can juggle egos of really powerful people and keep the lid on all that's hapenning with apparent ease. He's also not scared by the Scribbler in the slightest.
- Cool Teacher: He's a Reasonable Authority Figure and excellent politician, apparently liked by students, and he's the one to position Joel as Finch's assistant.
- One Of These Is Not Like The Others: The head of the Rithmatist academy is not a Rithmatist himself.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Played refreshingly straight. York manages to juggle the egos of the powerful students and parents at his school and still keep the place running well.
- Spotting the Thread: Something makes him suspicious of Nalizar. Unfortunately, the latter manages to metaphorically cut the thread before it can be traced to him.