Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Closer to a 3.5.
It's great to see middle grade books going a little darker in some regards, and even to see some tropes refreshed. Rebel Genius will get attention because of the author's association with Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it really should get some points more because of its treatment of the familiar/spirit animal motif.
The setting is sort of a Renaissance-era Europe where artists get Geniuses, a sort of familiar that represents their talents. People with them are persecuted, and so our hero finds an enclave where he's taught how to use his Genius and eventually fight back.
This isn't forging anything resembling new ground, but the use of these ideas along with some little-used concepts (like sacred geometry) make this a more interesting read even while it remains imperfect. More recent books like the Claire/Black Magisterium books do this sort of darkness better, and The Golden Compass remains a gold standard of sorts for the familiars concepts, but that doesn't mean kids, especially reluctant readers who are fans of Avatar, might not find a lot to love in this as an entrypoint.
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