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Rebel Genius by Michael DiMartino preview

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Michael DiMartino, best known for co-creating and executive producing Nickelodeon shows Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, is adding prose fiction to his packed resume with a new fantasy novel called Rebel Genius, coming out this October.

Giacomo is a 12-year-old who lives in a world where art is illegal. Every artist possesses a birdlike creature called a Genius, which contains the artist’s creative spirit. If you’re caught with a Genius, you might as well be dead — so when Giacomo realizes he has one, his troubles are only beginning. EW is proud to exclusively reveal Rebel Genius‘s cover and a sneak peek inside, below:

Rebel Genius by Michael DiMartino

Chapter 1 Excerpt

Giacomo turned away from the palace and approached a three-story building with boarded-up windows. He wedged himself between the chained double doors and shimmied through. Then he lit his lantern, casting a warm glow through the cavernous room, and walked past the broken tables and chairs, kicking up a plume of dust with each step. Long abandoned, the space once housed a cultural center and artists’ studios. He liked to picture himself arriving for class as eager students ran up and down the halls.

Painted across one side of the main hall was a long fresco, cracked and faded. As he did every time he visited, Giacomo blew the dust off the bronze plaque embedded in the wall next to it.

GENIUSES OF ZIZZOLA

Commissioned by Emperor Callisto, in honor of our empire’s great men, women, and Geniuses who brought beauty to light through their art, music, writing, theater, and dance.

Engraved underneath was the artist’s name: Pietro Vasari

A few years ago, when Giacomo first stumbled upon this room, it was like he’d discovered a cavern of hidden treasure. He found a stash of sketchbooks and drawing supplies in a locked cabinet, long forgotten. And the fresco had become his main source of inspiration. Each scene was a chance to study the human figure in different poses, wearing a variety of clothes, at all ages, from babies to hunched old couples. Had Pietro known these people? Did they all stand in this room and model for his mural? Although the artist had died—rumor was, at the Supreme Creator’s hands—studying his painting was the next best thing to being a real artist’s apprentice.

He found a familiar vignette, one that always brought comfort: a young girl, probably three or four, reaching for her Genius. The tiny creature’s wings were spread as if it had just floated down from the sky to meet her. Nearby, her smiling mother and father held each other, grateful for the arrival of their daughter’s Genius, which would become her muse and guardian.

Before Nerezza made it illegal for artists to have Geniuses, this kind of scene, while not common to all children, would’ve been celebrated. But now, if a Genius flew into a child’s life, it meant a death sentence for both.

Giacomo took a few steps forward, studied the fresco up close, then began to draw the girl. After a few minutes, he paused, comparing his work to that on the wall. He rubbed his eyes, frustrated. How come his figures always looked stiff and awkward, while the ones in the painting looked like they could step right out of the painting? Pietro captured lively gestures and natural expressions with only a few pigments and some wet plaster, and made it look easy.

Giacomo often wondered why the Supreme Creator had allowed this fresco to survive. After all, she’d wiped out Geniuses and stripped the city of any works of art that weren’t her own. Did she secretly admire Pietro’s work? Or maybe because her father commissioned the fresco, she didn’t have the heart to paint over it? Yeah, right, Giacomo thought. Like the Supreme Creator has a heart.

Giacomo was putting the finishing touches on the Genius’s feathers when he was startled by the rattle of a metal chain. He dropped his charcoal and whirled around, expecting a soldier to step from the shadows. No one came.

Unnerved, Giacomo packed his materials, picked up his lantern, and made for the doors.

But the way out was blocked.

Standing in front of him was the silhouette of a hunched figure. Unmoving.

He stopped breathing and stepped back.

The silhouette lurched closer, feet dragging. It was a woman. Gray matted hair hung in wild strands, covering most of her face.

A Lost Soul.