Michael Dante DiMartino, known to Nickeleoden viewers as the co-creator of the action cartoons “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and “The Legend of Korra,” turned from those works’ Asian influences to Italian art history for Rebel Genius, his middle grade fantasy. (See Rachel’s Guest Review below.) Michael used inventor, scientist, mathematician, and artist Leonardo Da Vinci’s concept of genius as a physical embodiment of creativity and art, as well as the way that different disciplines connect, as the foundation for his system of magic.
Set in a Venetian renaissance setting, this book has the complex world-building and strong characterization that made “Avatar: The Last Airbender” great. In this world, great artists have a bird-like daemon called a Genius. With the help of their Genius, they can work magic using their artistic talent. An oppressive ruler has killed or captured most of the Geniuses. A team of four orphans, sheltered and supported by a sympathetic duke, go questing for a sacred artifact to defeat the oppressive regime and save their Geniuses. They are pursued by a renegade sorcerer and his man-made servant, the four-armed Tulpa. The nuanced interactions, particularly between minor characters, brought an exceptional complexity and depth to both the imaginative and unique world and the ideas behind it. I look forward to further exploring DiMartino’s creation. – Guest Reviewer Rachel Steinberger