Goodreads: The Rise of Kyoshi
Series: Unnamed but set up for a sequel
Published: July 16, 2019
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.
The Rise of Kyoshi has big shoes to fill as a prequel novel to the beloved television series Avatar: The Last Airbender and as an origin story of one of the most popular Avatars. I looked forward to its publication with both immense excitement and pointed skepticism; members of any fandom know how difficult it can be for a creator to add work to an existing canonical world that lives up to the spirit of the original and stays within the bounds of that canon, expanding it in ways that are logical. Yet F. C. Yee was more than equal to the task. The Rise of Kyoshi is not perfect, but it is as close to perfect a story of a teenaged Avatar Kyoshi as I could have hoped, bringing life to the character and making me feel immersed in the world of Avatar almost as much as if I were watching the show.
Writing a younger (or older) version of a character that readers already know and love is a difficult endeavor on its own, even in the case of Avatar Kyoshi where fans of the show admittedly don’t know all that much. (To be clear, I don’t think you actually need to have watched the show to have the novel make sense and be enjoyable.) There’s always a trick to portraying characters who grown up to mature, confident, maybe stern or grave as youths who are more light-hearted and carefree but who still have the personality markers of the people they will become. Yee does an admirable job with this, playing with Avatar Kyoshi’s brute strength and strong (potentially unusual) sense of morality while also representing her as a teenager with fears, misgivings, and a world of unexplored opportunities. How does Kyoshi become someone fiercely loyal to her people? Or someone who fails to see the difference between murdering a man and taking an action that indirectly leads to his death? Yee tackles these questions head-on, and for the most part, I enjoyed the answers.
Writing a character who regenerates (like the Avatar, like the Doctor in Doctor Who) is another challenge, as the author must create a personality that fits the role but is not too similar to the previous incarnations of the character. In The Legend of Korra (the sequel show to Avatar: The Last Airbender), the writers took the extreme route of making an Avatar who was the complete opposite of Aang, and it felt heavy-handed. In The Rise of Kyoshi, Yee simply creates a character, one who fits what we know about Kyoshi from existing canon, and he doesn’t seem to fixate on whether she’s alike or different enough from Avatars Aang or Korra. She’s just herself, and I love that approach.
I also felt immersed in the world building. Here, Yee needs to create a world that exists hundreds of years before the television show takes place but that still has familiar elements and fun allusions for Avatar fans to pick up on. Similar to the characterization of Kyoshi, it needs to be a world that readers believe will grow into the one that Aang inhabits, and Yee generally strikes the right balance. Yee puts his own stamp on the setting, but I believed that it’s the world of Avatar; there’s not too much that’s unique or anything that stood out to be as contradicting the existing canon. I just wanted to hop on an air bison and start exploring the Four Nations myself.
Finally, the plot is gripping. There are similarities to Avatar: The Last Airbender that are likely difficult to get away from, especially if one wants to write a plot centered on a conflict related to the Avatar’s training. Kyoshi, like Aang, has people tracking her. She needs to find bending teachers. She needs friends to help her on her journey. However, the way this all plays out is distinctly different, definitely Kyoshi’s story rather than Aang’s, and I found myself glued to the pages, needing to know what would happen next.
I was highly anticipating this novel, and my excitement was well-founded. I just finished it, and I already want the next installment.