In 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered to tell the story about Aang, the latest Avatar, a person who can bend (or manipulate) the four basic elements (earth, air, fire, and water). In 2012, The Legend of Korra, a show about Aang’s successor premiered. Now, we have the most recent addition to the Avatar universe, a throwback to one of Aang and Korra’s predecessors, Avatar Kyoshi, in The Rise of Kyoshi by F. C. Yee with Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino.

To start, the physical book itself is of great quality. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I just kind of assumed it would be similar to those adapted novels that Tokyopop and VIZ used to publish. They would be the same size and shape as a volume of manga, filed next to the manga at the bookstore, and would basically be a couple of chapters of X popular manga series in plaintext.

I am glad to say that this is not what The Rise of Kyoshi is: it’s 442 pages, hardcover, and completely solid. The dust jacket features a great painting of Kyoshi, and the actual book has the book title and series title with an attractive design in gold debossed on the cover. It’s a pretty handsome book, either way.

So, before we move onto the main body of the review, I’d like to mention that although I did watch Avatar: The Last Airbender on and off during its original run (2005-2008) and attempted to watch The Legend of Korra (did it even have a consistent air time on Nickelodeon? I never figured it out), it’s been a while. Because promotional material for this book lauded the fact that anyone could pick up the book and follow it, I actively chose not to look too deeply into Kyoshi’s available backstory. The only thing I actually absorbed was that she had the biggest feet of any Avatar, which I assumed was just a weird fan theory thing, but is actually canon and is used a few times in the book.

I think that this book actually does stand on its ow; I never felt as if I wasn’t being given enough information or as if I was at a disadvantage because I hadn’t engaged with the Avatar universe in some time. Granted, I do have that bit of knowledge of the Avatar world, so I did go in with an awareness of some political conflicts, bending, and additional universe details. However, I didn’t know very much about certain aspects of these broad topics.

For example, Kyoshi is from the earth kingdom and maybe there was a lot of interaction with the earth kingdom in the shows, but I really only remember how the fire nation behaved in Avatar: The Last Airbender at this point. I would guess that even if the earth kingdom figures largely into either of the shows, The Rise of Kyoshi goes much deeper into the intimacies of politics and social life in the earth kingdom, and how the earth kingdom interacts with the other nations, especially the fire nation.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ followed the Avatar Aang and friends as he trained to become a proper Avatar. Kyoshi’s story takes place long before his.

Another great thing this book takes the time to explain is how bending works. It’s very quick, so if you’re a hardcore fan of the series it won’t pain you, but if you are new to the series or just took that aspect of the series for granted, it’s much appreciated.

The overall story itself is gripping throughout the entirety of the book. There is never really a dull moment, even during periods of rest. The book basically covers the start of Kyoshi’s Avatar story: at the beginning of the novel, nobody, not even herself knows she is the Avatar or even if she can ever even be an accomplished earthbender, period.

The more active part of her story is set into motion thanks to a vie for power and political intrigue, which runs throughout and remains easy to track and remains engaging. The story strikes a good balance between Kyoshi’s story and the villain’s story as they attempt to cover their mistakes, manipulate other powerful regional leaders, and undo Kyoshi. The villain’s unveiling is also genuinely surprising, yet it seems totally natural once they have outed themselves.

Kyoshi’s quest for safety, revenge, and training in bending forms leads her and childhood friend-turned-bodyguard Rangi to seek refuge with a not-quite-ragtag group that does contain skilled benders. Although most of the book has twists and turns, the only totally unexpected surprise for me was Kyoshi’s prior knowledge of the group. That was the only time I had to backtrack because I didn’t necessarily catch the hints leading to that point until we were already there. Still, the world it opens up is interesting and allows Kyoshi, Rangi, and company to grow and develop.

Legend of Korra
Korra, meanwhile, succeeds Aang as Avatar. However, she does cross paths with Kyoshi’s spirit, as Aang also did.

Kyoshi’s character is definitely well-defined and unique compared to the other Avatars I do know. Though she is strong and determined, she is vulnerable and we can see her struggling with impulsiveness and self-doubt. All of the characters come through naturally in three dimensions (barring a character who appears towards the book’s end who is supposed to be mysterious), which is a hallmark of the Avatar world. Even the villains are round characters, where even when one can’t empathize with them, one can understand them.

The Rise of Kyoshi ended with me wanting more. It does end on something of a cliffhanger, so of course, I want to see that get resolved, but beyond that, I really got invested in Kyoshi’s story and the world she inhabits. Kyoshi reflects a few times on the turmoil around her, some of which she has caused, that the Avatar reflects their times. I want to see this chaotic world more and see it (hopefully) stabilize with Kyoshi’s help.

Ultimately, I had a great time with The Rise and Fall of Kyoshi. You can tell that a lot of care went into its creation. I enjoyed it, period, and made time to just hole up with it and read. What I really want to do now is finally sit down and watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra for real, and I would say that, at least for me, a marker of a good piece of media is something that makes you want to continue engaging with it and/or its universe. I would definitely recommend this to both dedicated Avatar fans and newcomers to it all that are looking for a good–and different–YA fantasy novel.

The Rise of Kyoshi will be available starting July 16, wherever books are sold, with its sequel due for release in 2020. You can also learn more about author F. C. Yee and check out his other books here, and more news from Michael Dante DiMartino on the Avatar world can be found on DiMartino’s Tumblr page.

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