This book was a 2016 Christmas gift from my love to my son and I. We finished the book we were reading and then took several months reading it aloud together.
Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino. Roaring Brook Press, 2016.
Avatar: the Last Airbender screenwriter DiMartino turns his talents towards novel-writing in this first of a middle grade fantasy series set in world based on Renaissance Italy.
In this world, artists have literal geniuses, birds that are their companions and helpers, similar to the daemons of Lyra’s Oxford. But the current ruler of Verenzia has outlawed both art and geniuses, capturing and killing all the geniuses in the kingdom and leaving the artists to wander as zombie-like Lost Souls. Our hero, Giacomo, is living in sewers after his artist parents vanished. His life changes forever when a genius of his own arrives, and he is found by a group of artist children who secretly live and train in the house of one of the Supreme Creator’s advisors. As he gets to know the varied group of three children and the old, blind artist who trains them, Giacomo learns more about Sacred Geometry and the threats to their world presented by the Supreme Creator and the rogue artist who wants to bring her down and start his own despotic rule. Soon, they are embarking on a quest to find the tools of the Creator, racing against enemies of many varieties.
DiMartino’s screenwriting background definitely shows here. The book feels like it would translate well to the screen, and moments of tension are balanced nicely against times of character development and humor. Giacomo’s story is interspersed with short chapters from the point of view of an eight-limbed human-like creature called a tulpa, created by the rogue artist, and there’s a lot of reflection on whether the tulpa, created as a tool, has the capacity for morality or self-determination.
This should have been one that I really enjoyed, but it didn’t quite work for me. My son liked it just fine, but I think for me it suffered greatly from being a book that I read aloud right after we’d been reading Diana Wynne Jones – DiMartino is good, but no one else is DWJ. Also, it’s focused on a fast-moving plot, and that kind of book is both not my favorite and something that works better read quickly, not over half a year. I know that Brandy over at Random Musings of a Bibliophile really liked it, so I think that this was just not the right time and way for me to read an otherwise fine book. For those that haven’t read it yet, the sequel, Warrior Genius, is now out too.