The good thing is this story is swashbucklingly adventurous and reminiscent of Avatar: the Last Airbender. The bad thing is that it isn’t Avatar: the Last Airbender. Just a sorta kinda copy with a completely different world and magical system. Did I like it? Yes! I did wish the story’s medium had been an animated one, though.
by Michael Dante DiMartino
Roaring Brook Press, October 2016
Middle grade adventure fantasy
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (thank you!)
In twelve-year-old Giacomo’s Renaissance-inspired world, art is powerful, dangerous, and outlawed. Every artist possesses a Genius, a birdlike creature that is the living embodiment of an artist’s creative spirit. Those caught with one face a punished akin to death, so when Giacomo discovers he has a Genius, he knows he’s in serious trouble.
Luckily, he finds safety in a secret studio where young artists and their Geniuses train in sacred geometry to channel their creative energies as weapons. But when a murderous artist goes after the three Sacred Tools–objects that would allow him to destroy the world and everyone in his path–Giacomo and his friends must risk their lives to stop him.
Not gonna lie, the first thing I saw when I saw the cover of this book was Michael Dante DiMartino’s name and everything pretty much shut down from there, because all I kept thinking was, “Avatar. Avatar the Last Airbender on paper. ON BOOK FORM. With art and stuff. OMGWHATISTHIS WHAT IS HAPPENING I WANT THIS.” As a big AtLA fan, I was practically stoked when I found that half the AtLA creative team wrote a book for children.
Of course, it’s not AtLA by any shape or form, though there are enough similarities in the story and characters that it’s difficult to avoid the comparison. Which is why this review is probably going to bring up AtLA a lot. I mean, I’ve already mentioned it twice in this paragraph alone. Sorry not sorry.
A World of Art
Rebel Genius takes place in an interesting world where artists of all kinds possess Genius–magical birds with jeweled crowns on their heads. Most of the time, the Genius arrives at birth and grows alongside the artist, and the partnership between the two are often beneficial. The artist is endowed with a magical skill, and with the right training, both artist and Genius can grow to become powerful in the ways of sacred geometry.
That is, until the
Fire Nation–Nerezza attacked. Since then, as the Supreme Creator, Nerezza has forced artists to part with their Geniuses. Unfortunately, by killing the artist’s Genius, it inadvertently kills off the artist’s soul, and thus most lives are also lost because of this. In the case of Giacomo, he lost his parents under the Supreme Creator’s rule.
Avatar–Genius. The characters have some of the quirks of the AtLA team, and it is definitely hard not to see them otherwise. Unfortunately, because the show itself had such great character development, the featured characters in Rebel Genius paled in comparison. Milena was easily my favorite character, and even she doesn’t get much limelight. A lot of characters were introduced as well, though I found that I held little sympathy for any of them. Zanobius held some interest because he had that “father-son/creator-creation” moral dilemma that is pretty much the stuff of a hero’s journey story, but even then his character is kind of flat. It’s hard to like someone whose point of view gets rewritten every so often. On top of that, the book really focused on the worldbuilding and the magical system, so the characters pretty much just wandered through the backdrop.
But what a beautiful and interesting world it is! I mean, artists gain power through knowledge of sacred geometry. Art and math, for eff’s sake. That shit is beautiful. It’s profound. It’s the kind of magical system I’d like to live in because geometry and symmetry is aesthetically pleasing (and fun to play with). Now I wouldn’t love to live in the world Nerezza sought to make, but hey, that’s a different dilemma altogether.
Also, can I just say how great it is to see illustrations within the text? I will say it was a little difficult to picture a few descriptive details, so having sketches of characters and situations gave me a better visual of what was happening in the story. For those who also had some trouble with the math-ish concepts, it may have been a good thing to add illustrations, only to see how Genius powers worked (and even then, it was still somewhat hard to grasp).
All in all, though, I enjoyed the story. It was fast-paced, descriptive, and interesting. I couldn’t really rate Rebel Genius too high, though, because as I said, much of the character work paled in comparison, and the story seemed to be just an introductory story into the world. I would love to have known more about what was happening overall, and would have loved more progression on the story itself. The entire adventure in the Land of Death and Duke Oberto’s was such a roundabout way of trying to get to the Compass. I can easily imagine it as an episodic story, but for me it didn’t quite work in book form.
Now…if only there was an animated form of this book…oh wait.
That was the last gif, I swear!