Rebel Genius Book Review
Book 1 (of 3) in the Rebel Geniuses Series.
Written By – Mike DiMartino
Illustrations By – Mike DiMartino
As promised here is my review for Mike’s first novel release, Rebel Genius. It is not related to Avatar or Korra in any way outside of Mike writing it, but I think it is definitely worth discussing as Mike is writing the Korra comics and this book may give us a further insight into his writing style and quality beyond what we know from his writing work on Avatar and Korra with the other writers.
Overall I really enjoyed Rebel Genius, it very clearly more of a young adult novel than a full on Fantasy epic, but it really works for this story. The pacing is fast, never lingering too long in one place and each chapter always introducing something new. It is a real page turner, the chapters are short, but give detail when they need to and action packed when that is called for. As for the Avatar comparison, you can tell that Mike was one of the creators of Avatar based on reading this book, elements of how ¬†the world building was presented and the directions he took some of the characters in felt like the way he would write in Avatar, but beyond a somewhat similar writing feel this is a completely different fictional universe.
Instead of an eastern inspired ancient world filled with Bending and hybrid animals, we get a world quite similar to Renaissance Italy where sketching, painting and sculpting are very present. But the twist is that the location is not Italy or any real world place, this book is set in a place called Zizzola, In essence an alternate world Italy as most of the characters have Italian names and the place names are very Italian inspired. ¬†What makes this book a fantasy novel, the magical element, is how Mike presents art and the theory behind it. Children in this world who will grow up to be very creative usually have a being known as a Genius suddenly appear before them, this birdlike creature will be their companion and will grow as the child grows, but also any pain inflicted on the Genius will be inflicted on the human and vice versa which of course means that if the Genius dies the human also dies. The positive ¬†is that a Genius has special powers, each one has a crown with a special gem in it which allows them to basically turn their artists art into something that has an effect on the real world. This is explained through the book as working via Sacred Geometry, that if an artist and their genius have a strong enough bond an artist can draw these Sacred Shapes on paper or just in the air and the Genius’s power can make something magical happen depending on the shape drawn.
This book will definitely teach kids a decent amount about Geometry, as it goes reasonably in-depth into explaining how as you use more complex Sacred Geometry the greater the power you use is. This is dealt with as an important part of the story as one of the most controversial powers is the ability to create a living being. The villain of this book is established to be the first artist ever to create one of these living beings, referred to as a Tulpa, his Tulpa, named Zanobius is seen as a monster by all due to what his creator has him do to fulfil his masters plan. There is a really great exploration of the idea of the free will of a Tulpa as well as if it is even right to create living things from art.
I enjoyed how the lore and world building of this universe was presented throughout the book. Our main character Giacomo is 12 and towards the start of the book suddenly gets his Genius, a completely unheard of thing in the world, someone getting their genius at such an old age, most kids get theirs at 1 or 2 years old. So we get the explanations of Geniuses and Sacred Geometry as Giacomo learns to work with his genius, Mico. The key twist with Giacomo is that when he begins to use his powers, he seems much more powerful than the other kids are with their Geniuses. He is able to tap into the Wellspring of Creation, a fascinating concept that will hopefully be explored more in the next 2 books, but here is presented as the origin of all creativity and perhaps the place where souls come from.
The basic plot of this book and the series going forward is that currently the Zizzolan Empire is under the control of The Supreme Creator, Nerezza the evil ruler of Zizzola. She has outlawed Geniuses and has had soldiers capture and kill any Genius they find. She fears the power of artists were they to become very powerful. Meaning very few characters in this universe have fully grown Geniuses (It seems to be implied that all Geniuses eventually become birds that are large enough to ride on like the ones on the cover). Giacomo is an orphan living on his own in the sewers stealing bits of food to survive, this changes when his Genius suddenly appears as if from nothing, he is soon found by other people his age who also have Geniuses and brought to the house of a government official who supports people keeping their geniuses. This group of kids are thought how to better use their Geniuses by former legendary artist Pietro Vasari who is in hiding and assumed dead after an incident years ago. Pietro and Baldasarre (The Government official) have a plan to overthrow Nerezza so that artists can be free with their Geniuses again, find the 3 Sacred Tools of The Creator: The Creator’s Compass, The Creators Straightedge and The Creators Pencil. Legendary tools that have powers far exceeding the power of any one Genius, established to be the very tools “The Creator” (The God of this world, more or less) used to create the world. Then use these tools to remove Nerezza from power. The problem is that they are nearly impossible to locate and when you do locate one it is a dangerous journey to get to it, the other problem for our team of artists is that the villain, Ugalino and his Tulpa, Zanobius are also after the 3 sacred tools, but for more nefarious reasons. You can sort of see where the plot is going, Giacomo is special and gives them the first clue to one of the tools and suddenly the plan is do-able, we have journeys, fights and big confrontations as the search for The Creators Compass goes on.
The book does a great job at telling 2 separate stories happening at the same time. We of course focus on Giacomo as he trains and then journeys with his friends for the Sacred Tools, but we also get a good few chapters focusing on our villain, Ugalino and what he is doing to find the tools. The stories of course overlap eventually, but it works really nicely as you get time with the villains on their own and not just through scenes with the hero characters. Surprisingly the star character of the book is neither Giacomo or Ugalino, it is in fact Zanobius, the Tulpa. How they explore how he feels about himself, what he is, why he does the things he does and how he feels about his master is fascinating and a level above all of the other character stuff in this book.
Not to say that the book has weak characters, most of the characters are interesting, it is just that a lot of them still have to be explored. There is set up for things with most characters, but it is really only Zanobius’s arc that stands out. Giacomo is interesting because of a few reveals that happen towards the end of the book and of course his unique powers, but his actual personality and how he acts is quite basic. Similarly with the other main characters around Giacomo’s age, they all get a lot of pagetime and their basic characters are presented well, but it stops just before doing anything notable with them, again little bits of set up with all of them, but the focus for this book is more on Giacomo and him becoming friends with the 3 of them having just met at the start of this book.Things are definitely leaves things open for a lot of character exploration in the future.
One very notable thing about this book is that there are a decent amount of illustrations throughout the book. Given that art and geometry are such a big part of the story, we are given descriptions of very visual concepts so very cleverly Mike has added in a bunch of illustrations to better show what he is trying to explain. When a Sacred Geometry shape is mentioned it is shown, from shapes as simple as a circle and triangle all the way to a complex mix of geometry like a Metatron Cube. We also get images of the characters shown via sketches that Giacomo has drawn as the story goes on. I read the kindle version of this book, but the illustrations alone make me want to get the actual book. The art is done by Mike himself, and really highlights how good of an artist he is despite Bryan being known as the art guy of the two.
Final thoughts. This is a really fun book that I think a lot of Avatar fans will enjoy, if you go in open to a new story from the creator of Avatar I think you will get a lot out of this book, if you go in expecting it to be Avatar in a different skin you may be disappointed. For me the concepts of Geniuses, the Wellspring, Sacred Geometry and how art is used in this universe are the standout aspects of this book, it is such a creative idea for a story. The characters or general plot probably won’t blow you away with their complexity or originality, but there is a solid story coming together here that has a lot of potential to be explored in the next 2 books in the series. I for one am in for the whole series after Book 1, I was fully prepared to read the first book and leave it at that if the book wasn’t great, but I honestly did come away very impressed. At the very least every Avatar fan should give this book s shot, if not just to support Mike.
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