As someone who very recently watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra, I was completely mesmerized by the lore and the detailed, diverse universe of this series. Binging both animated series multiple times wasn’t enough; I wanted to stay in the Avatar universe a bit longer and learn more about all the other Avatars and their stories of hardships too.
The Rise of Kyoshi was exactly what I needed. A phenomenal young adult fantasy novel, this book by F. C. Yee chronicles the life of the fiercest Avatar in history, and my god, what an incredible legend it is.
F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. The first of two novels based on Kyoshi, The Rise of Kyoshi maps her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice who is still feared and admired centuries after she became the Avatar
Trigger Warnings: death, violence, abandonment, mass murder (mentioned).
The story follows Kyoshi, an orphan servant who spends a very ordinary life serving one of the most influential families in the empire. Her world is thrown upside down when it is revealed that she is the Avatar, the bridge between the spirits and humans, and the most powerful being who can manipulate all four elements and bring balance during chaos.
Kyoshi is the kind of protagonist you cannot but fall in love with. Forever an underdog, she has a bitter sense of humor and a heart too big for her size. You will admire her bravery, her fierce protectiveness of her loved ones, her selfless compassion…and even her anger and righteous vengefulness.
There are two things that really stood out to me in this novel. The first, is how deeply F. C. Yee explores the lore with respect to the original show. The second thing I noticed is how this book, despite being part of a franchise, can be read as a stand-alone novel. You don’t have to watch the animated series to understand the characters or the setting; F. C. Yee does an amazing job of explaining the backstory without it becoming an infodump.
I loved the world-building, as you can already guess. One of the things that I love about the Avatar universe is how vibrant and diverse their world is, and F. C. Yee captured it perfectly. The representation of so many cultures, including some similar to my own, against the backdrop of a fantastical society where some can manipulate the elements was absolutely thrilling.
And of course, when it came to depicting some of the uglier parts of our society, the book did not hold back any punches. The author explores how even those with the best intentions to do good can go to extreme lengths, and inadvertently become the very thing they detest.
The plot was dark, much darker than what the fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender has experienced with the animated series (or the comics that followed). The gut-wrenching scenes of death, the portrayal of a nation where classism is very deeply ingrained, the violence against those who were vulnerable and defenseless; they are all sure to bring tears to your eyes and make you see your own neighborhood in a different light.
The novel forces Kyoshi, and the readers, to ask hard questions and holds up the flaws in our society through the lense of fictional characters. The criminals for instance, shows you that while many people turn to a life of crime for no other reason than lust for power and greed, there are also many who were simply forced into it due to classism and lack of compassion from the privileged.
Speaking of the characters, I loved each and every one of them, except for the main love interest. While the representation of bisexual romance was something that I really enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel that Kyoshi’s relationship with her female love interest needed more development.
To sum it up, here are three reasons why you should read The Rise Of Kyoshi:
- The world-building. I have said this before, but the universe of Avatar is captivating, and one of its biggest strength. You want to immerse in a fantasy world that is as beautiful as it is unique, then read The Rise of Kyoshi.
- Kyoshi. In the Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kyoshi is more both feared and respected, and you will definitely love watching her evolve from a quiet, unassuming servant to a terrifyingly powerful woman.
- The politics. The original animated series was very political show even though it was aimed at children, and cleverly depicted difficult topics like gender inequality, genocide, colonialism, and autocracy. The Rise of Kyoshi is no exception. You will love the political intrigue in this book, and the complexity of the characters involved.
That wraps up my review of The Rise Of Kyoshi. I can honestly go on for hours talking about this book and the entire franchise it belongs to, but that’s a discussion for some other time.
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!