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Rebel Genius is the debut novel of Michael Dante DiMartino, co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Set in a Constructed World inspired by Renaissance Italy where artists use the power of Sacred Geometry to shape the world around them with the aid of bird-like familiars called Geniuses, the story follows Giacomo, a 12-year old aspiring artist living on the streets of Virenzia, capital of the Zizzolan Empire. Because owning a Genius is punishable by death, Giacomo is understandably terrified when he finds himself with a Genius of his own one day completely out of nowhere. But before he can be captured, he's found by a group of other young artists like himself, who take him to a hidden art studio where a once renowned artist lives in hiding, teaching the next generation of artists in secret and preparing for the day when they can overthrow Zizzola's tyrannical ruler and bring about an artistic Renaissance.

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In the first book, Giacomo's training is cut short when his teacher's former student Ugalino emerges from hiding on a quest to take control three magical art tools believed to have been used by the creator of their world to bring the universe into shape. With the threat posed by Ugalino's ambition and his ruthless Tulpa enforcer, Giacomo and his new friends must set off on a quest to find the Creator's Compass before Ugalino can use it to destroy Zizzola, and the rest of them along with it.

The book was released in October 2016. The sequel, Warrior Genius, was released in January 2018.

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It provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Savino's parents locked him in his room and hid his existence from the outside world when he found his Genius.
    • Milena's continously tried to get rid of hers, and pretended she didn't exist once her younger siblings were born.
  • Arc Villain: Ugalino for the first book.
    • Vrama for the second book.
  • Artificial Human: Tulpas.
  • Audience Surrogate: Giacomo.
  • Bait the Dog: After Pietro reveals that he and Nerezza used to date, Milena theorizes that the reason she let him live was because she still had feelings for him. When Pietro confronts her later in the book, she reveals she did it out of Cruel Mercy.
  • Big Bad: Supreme Creator Nerezza.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Real Italian words, names, and phrases are used liberally throughout the book.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Zannobius throughout both books. Ugalino resets his memories every time he defies his master. In the second book, Nereza manages to control him herself.
    • Giaccomo at the end of the second book.
  • Brainwash Residue: There are still remnants of Ugalino's control over Zanobius in the second book.
  • But Now I Must Go: Pietro goes into self-exile with the Lost Souls of Rachana when his genius is killed in the second book.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Nereza has been stockpiling the gems of every genius from every artist she's killed including those of Giaccomo's parents.
  • Deuteragonist: Zanobius. Milena becomes one as well in the second book.
  • Didn't Think This Through: After leaving the group for part of the second book, Zanobius allows himself to be captured in order to get close enough to assassinate Nerezza. He cannot bring himself to kill again after being forced to do it by Ugalino, and being captured allows her to use the remnants of Ugalino's influence to control him herself.
  • Disappeared Dad: Aaminah's father left, allegedly to find a save place for his family in Katunga, but never returned. Giaccomo's became a Lost Soul after his genius was killed by Narezza.
  • Disney Death: Ozo is dragged off by Invisibilia, only to be found by Zanobius in a cave a few chapters later.
  • Distressed Dude: Enzio is captured by Nereza early in the second book.
    • Giaccomoa is captured at the end of the same book and brainwashed into becoming Nereza's loyal slave.
  • Downer Ending:
    • By the end of Warrior Genius, Despite gaining the Straightedge and healing the geniuses of Rachana, Pietro's genius is killed by Nerezza, forcing him to leave the children before he becomes a Lost Soul. Zanobius is freed from Nerezza's efforts to control him, but Giaccomo is captured and made into Nerezza's thrall.
  • Dwindling Party: Several mercenaries are killed off while facing the stone statues, more abandon ship at Castille de Oberto, and the rest are killed off by Invisibilia, except for Ozo.
  • Dysfunction Junction: All three are artists in a country where simply having the ability to become one is punishable by death, and a whole host of abandonment issues.
  • The Empire: Three of them. Zizzola, Katunga, and Rashana. They're all at war with each other.
  • The Emperor: Supreme Creator Narezza, ruler of the Zizzolan empire.
  • False Friend: Baldassare is one to the young artists.
  • Fantastic Racism: Most of the cast has this towards Tulpas, although this is somewhat understandable given that the only Tulpa known to exist is an unstoppable killing machine.
  • Fatal Attraction: Warrior Genius reveals that Pietro and Nerezza used to be a couple before she started suppressing artists.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Becoming a Lost Soul. The death of one's Genius causes an artist to slowly lose their mind and become barely living bodies shambling about looking for food. This is how Giacomo lost his parents.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Giacomo's discomfort with killing Tulpas and his curiosity about them provides a subtle clue to the fact that He is one himself.
    • Niccolo using his genius' gem to keep himself from becoming a Lost Soul sets up Pietro being forced to do the same thing at the end of the second book.
  • Freudian Excuse: The reason Ozo despises Tulpa so much is because Zanobius murdered his family on Ugalino's orders.
  • Genius Bonus: Real Italian words and phrases are used frequently throughout the book, as real artistic terminology and techniques.
  • A God Am I: Supreme Creator Narezza is implied to have this view if choosing a title that elevates her to the same level as the god of this world is anything to go by. Ugalino's relentless quest for the Three Sacred Tools of The Creator implies that he has a similar view of himself.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Narezza
  • The Good King: Narezza's father was this. It was only after she took the throne that everything started going downhill.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ozzo overcomes his hatred for Tulpa in the second book and makes peace with Zanobious.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A non-lethal variation in the second book. Giaccomo allows himself to be brainwashed by Nerezza in order to break her control over Zanobius.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: For all of Ugalino's villainy, he's actually right about the fact that Baldassare can't be trusted.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Zanobius the Tulpa suffers this every time he attempts to assert his independence and rebel against Ugalino.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: Each Genius is this to their artists.
  • Love Triangle: Giacomo is implied to have a crush on Milena while Aaminah has an implied crush on Giacomo. This becomes a love square when book 2 ends with some Ship Tease between Milena and Savino.
  • Mad Scientist: Ugalino's theories on the creation of Tulpas cause him to be seen as such.
  • Mind-Control Device: For a Tulpa, the gem of their creator's Genius can be used to control them. This is how Ugalino resets Zanobius' memory each time he rebels.
    • Nereza is able to use the gems of Giaccomo's parents' Geniuses to control him at the end of the second book.
  • Missing Mom: Most of the young characters have one. Aaminah's died when she was young, and Giacomo's is a Lost Soul.
  • The Mole: Baldassare was using Pietro and the children as pawns for Narezza all along.
  • Multiple PO Vs
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Giacomo has this reaction when he accidentally opens the Wellspring and injures Milena.
    • Zanobius is horrified when his memories are restored and realizes why Ozo hates him.
    • Baldassare starts displaying this when Nerezza tortures, and later, attempts to execute, Enzio.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: Savino's Genius, which is a hawk.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Narezza, at least for the first book. Despite flying in on her Genius for the final battle, she doesn't actively participate.
  • Only in It for the Money: The mercenaries hired to protect the kids. The ones who leave at Duke Oberto's castle do so because they feel that the money isn't worth the risk.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different: Tulpas are brought to live using a complex and arcane process that uses Sacred Geometry to move a soul from The Wellspring into a living vessel.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Preta are undead souls tethered to the world of the living through strong emotions.
  • Parental Abandonment: Giacomo, Aaminah, and Milena suffer from this.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Zanobius goes through this over the course of the book.
  • Redemption Earns Life: For Zanobius.
  • The Reveal:
    • Giacomo is a Tulpa.
    • Baldassare has been working for Narezza all along.
    • Nerezza and Pietro used to date before her Start of Darkness.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Enzio begins teaching Zanobius how to be sarcastic.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: All but three of the mercenaries abandon the mission when they learn that they're going into the Land of Death.
  • Self-Made Orphan: In the second book, Nerezza admits to assassinating her own father.
  • Starter Villain: Ugalino.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The first book alternates between Giaccomo's perspective, and Zanobius's.
    • The second book then adds Giaccomo's fellow art student Milenna, and the Big Bad herself, Nerezza.
  • Taken for Granite: The stone statues the party encounters en route to Duke Oberto's castle cause this by looking into a person's eyes. Several mercenaries are killed this way.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Giacomo finds out the hard way that he's actually a Tulpa.
  • Trophy Room: Nereza has one filled with the gems of the Geniuses she's killed over the years.
  • Villain Episode: Warrior Genius has several chapters written from Nerezza's point of view.
  • Undying Loyalty: When everyone discovers that Giacomo is actually a Tulpa, he expects his new friends to turn on him, given the Fantastic Racism they displayed against Tulpas previously. Instead, they reaffirm that he is their friend, and the discovery of his true nature actually causes them to let go of their hatred of Tulpa and realize that they are not inherently evil.
  • Wham Line:
    Aaminah: "I knew it. You're a Tulpa."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Most of the main characters except for Giacomo view Tulpas as subhuman monsters. The discovery that Giacomo is one causes them to reassess their views.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Milena and Savino see that Giacomo had hidden a Tulpa cipher from them, they get angry at him, Milena even snapping that she can't trust him. But after they realize that Giacomo [[spoiler:is a Tulpa] himself] at the end of the book, Milena returns the cipher to Giacomo and apologizes for not trusting him with it.
  • You Killed My Father: The reason Ozo hates Tulpas is because Zanobius killed his wife and child.
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