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.
I love the Avatar series. I loved Aang’s story and the lessons the show taught me as a young teen in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I also loved Korra’s story and the social discourse and confronting questions that the story posed in Legend of Korra. As a fan of both series and the Avatar universe, I had my trepidations about The Rise of Kyoshi. I knew that in the hands of Yee, author of one of my favourite YA book series of all time, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, that he would do a fantastic job telling Kyoshi’s story. But, of course, like any fan who was gravely disappointed by the live action film (the way six earthbenders bended that one miserable and poorly animated rock still haunts me to do this day), I think it’s fair to feel a little apprehensive of any addition to the Avatar universe.
But friends, you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief: The Rise of Kyoshi is a marvellous and fantastic addition to the Avatar universe. Following Kyoshi as a young teenager and set in a time of political and civil unrest and uncertainty, The Rise of Kyoshi details her humble origin story and her tumultuous beginnings and her journey of becoming one of the most feared and ruthless Avatars.
A story of how a servant girl became the Avatar
The title of this may raise a few eyebrows – because no one simply becomes the Avatar, they always are, right? Well, The Rise of Kyoshi poses a question that we may not have asked when we followed Aang and Korra’s journey: what happened if the world struggled to find the Avatar and after seven years of searching, they chose the wrong person? If you are familiar with the lore of Avatar, you’ll know that the story is about Kyoshi. And yet, her story begins as village girl living in poverty whose parents abandoned her and would later serve as one of the Avatar’s servant – and be one of his closest friends.
Knowing what I knew about the Avatar lore and what would inevitably happen made reading The Rise of Kyoshi such an epic and brilliant read. I was engrossed by the details of the story, hungry for the puzzle pieces of the who and the how and the why – why does Kyoshi wield fans? why does she wear the paint on her face? who were her influences? – and despite knowing Kyoshi’s destiny, Yee’s excellent storytelling and his way to seamlessly weave the Avatar universe into Kyoshi’s unique story such a spellbinding read. Moreover, the way that subtle references and nods to specific episodes were included in the story didn’t feel like blatant pandering nor did they take me out of Kyoshi’s story – rather, they were small jewels in the story that made me appreciate my re-watches of Avatar: The Last Airbender a lot more.
Kyoshi: An Avatar very different to Aang and Korra
Though all Avatars are different in their own way, shaped by the political and social climates that they are born into and how the world needs them, I really appreciated – and enjoyed! – how different Kyoshi is to Aang and Korra. What stood out distinctly for me, especially since I’ve been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender (because reading The Rise of Kyoshi made me miss the Avatar universe so much) was that Kyoshi’s story, by comparison, is pretty dark. In saying that, all of the Avatar’s stories will have an underlying darker tone, as Avatars are bringers of peace and harmony in an often warring and fractured world that presents unique challenges. For Aang, it was the war and the Fire Nation’s quest of genocide and imperialism; for Korra, it was the political and spiritual conflict in a modernising world. Thus, for Kyoshi, it is her legitimacy as the Avatar and a horrifying and world-shattering betrayal by someone who she trusted.
Something readers of The Rise of Kyoshi will see more of is the political and cultural machinations at work and the importance of simply having an Avatar as a vessel for justice and stability. This is something that we didn’t get to really see as much in Aang and Korra’s story, so I appreciated this bit of worldbuilding and lore immensely. In addition, as Kyoshi is born an earthbender – and thus the story takes place in Earth Kingdom – the bureaucracy, corruption, and messy politics alluded to in the animated series become particularly salient in this book. This extra layer of worldbuilding was very interesting and does a fantastic job of establishing complex context that allows the reader to appreciate the challenges that Kyoshi faces as the Avatar.
A wonderful and unorthodox new ‘Avatar Gang’
A majority of the characters in The Rise of Kyoshi are all new characters! Though getting to know new characters in such a beloved and old series can understandably make people feel a little hesitant (because how can the new characters be as awesome as the old characters?), readers can be assured that the characters, and their development, are fantastic and memorable. For one, we get to learn a lot more about Kyoshi; her motivations are clear across the whole story and you cannot help but sympathise with her and the hardships that she endures. Kyoshi also gets her own ‘Avatar gang’, but whom she adopts as part of the Avatar gang is much different to Aang and Korra’s groups.
In particular, I loved Rangi, Kyoshi’s firebending bodyguard, friend, and later girlfriend (yes! Kyoshi’s story is f/f and the romance is beautiful and organic), and I also loved the unorthodox found family and bending masters of daofei: Kirima the loyal and sarcastic waterbender, Lek the earthbender who bends with impeccable precision, and Wong, the bulky and burly earthbender that is light on his feet. I also really enjoyed the antagonist of The Rise of Kyoshi, Jianzhu, and the moral complexity that his involvement in Kyoshi’s story gave to the storyline. Similar to my favourite villains in the Avatar universe, Zaheer and Kuvira, although their methods and goals are despicable and not to be condoned, you nonetheless understand why they, the antagonists, are doing what they are doing, making them compelling and interesting antitheses to the respective Avatar’s journey.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
For fans of the Avatar series out there, please read this book! It’s a fantastic addition to the Avatar universe, and it will, guaranteed, make you wish that Kyoshi had her own animated series. Although I always had a fascination about the hard-ass Avatar who had no reservations about carrying out justice as she saw fit, this story made me love and appreciate Kyoshi so much. There is a cliffhanger at the end of this book – and we’ll see Kyoshi return in the series’ second book, The Shadow of Kyoshi, but The Rise of Kyoshi is nonetheless a satisfying and riveting story.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: The origin story of Avatar Kyoshi.
Perfect for: Readers who love the Avatar series.
Think twice if: You haven’t watched Avatar or have no interest in it.
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Trigger/content warning: death of loved ones, death, mass murder (mentioned), physical and fantasy violence
Read this book, but be warned: you’ll definitely be itching to rewatching all of the animated series and reading this will make you wish that we had a Kyoshi animated series. Now that would’ve been glorious.
- Have you read The Rise of Kyoshi? What did you think?
- Have you watched the Avatar animated series? What did you like and what was your favourite episode?
- Do you think you would have been a good Avatar? Why or why not?