The Shadow of Kyoshi by F. C. Yee

Shadow of Kyoshi Cover Image

Information

Goodreads: The Shadow of Kyoshi
Series: Kyoshi #2
Source: Library
Published: July 2020

Summary

The Four Nations have finally accepted Kyoshi as the Avatar, but a new threat is rising. The Fire Nation is undergoing political turmoil as rival factions fight for power–and a threat from the Spirit World is taking advantage of the chaos. Can Kyoshi maintain balance in the world? And will she lose herself in the process?

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Review

The Shadow of Kyoshi immerses readers in another action-packed adventure as the teenage Kyoshi attempts to find her place in the world. Now finally accepted as the true Avatar, Kyoshi spends her days avoiding the summonses sent to her daily from various nobles wanting to curry her favor. However, when an invitation from the Fire Lord arrives, Kyoshi suspects that he has a truly urgent problem. She arrives in the Fire Nation to discover rival factions vying for the throne. Only she can keep the clans from starting an all-out war. But Kyoshi fears that doing whatever it takes to maintain peace could mean that she will have to lose both her honor and herself. Fans of the first book will not be disappointed by this powerful follow-up to The Rise of Kyoshi.

Avatar Kyoshi has long been a favorite among fans of the show, and F. C. Yee brings her teenage years to life in a way that feels like a true continuation of the TV series. All the little details are there, all the familiar places, all the bending action that fans love. But, at the heart of it all, stands Kyoshi, an Avatar perhaps both notable and refreshing in how different she is from Aang. Kyoshi is angry, she is lost, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the people she loves safe. Where Aang feared violence, Kyoshi embraces it.

This is because Kyoshi is, at heart, a survivor. Abandoned by her parents and left to starve by uncaring villagers, Kyoshi understands that true justice exists for very few. The rich in the Earth Kingdom exploit the poor, and the desperate poor turn to criminal actions if they want to live. Kyoshi does not judge. She has done the unimaginable. But her experience has given her a fierceness Aang lacks, as well as a desire to fight for those the world has forgotten. Whereas Aang has his sights set on one goal–defeating the Fire Lord–Kyoshi has appointed herself the impossible task of rooting out corruption literally everywhere. It is a fight she knows, deep down, that she can never win. But she still feels the need to try.

The conflicts within Kyoshi are perhaps the most gripping parts of the story. Even though she is embroiled in Fire Nation politics, even though she has a horror from the Spirit World to face, and even though she is in the middle of developing romantic relationship, Kyoshi’s inner journey is really what makes the story work. Every choice she makes will have consequences, and she is keenly aware that those consequences, more often than not, tend to turn out badly. She is desperate to help even as she fears she is not capable of rising to the occasion. That inescapable self-doubt is what makes Kyoshi seem so fully human–and what makes her story so powerful.

The Shadow of Kyoshi is at its heart a book about trying to make the right choices when no right choice seems possible. It is a book about continuing on, even when it seems pointless. It is a book about fearing that, despite one person’s best efforts, the world will not be better off. Kyoshi embodies the human desire to do good, to be needed, to make a difference. She also embodies the possibility that none of it matters. That tension is something that feels real, and true. And it makes the story so much more than an adventure across the Fire Nation. It makes it the story of a soul.

4 stars

The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino

Information

Goodreads: The Rise of Kyoshi
Series: Kyoshi #1
Source: Purchased
Published: July 16, 2019

Summary

Kyoshi is on the run.  After she is revealed as the Avatar, forces array against her, each seeking to control her for their own gain.  But Kyoshi has her own agenda: to uncover her past and to revenge herself against the man who destroyed her world.

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Review

The Rise of Kyoshi is a fast-paced and emotionally compelling read, one that will be welcome to readers eager to return to the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  F. C. Yee expertly takes elements of the world readers know and adds his own twist, making the story come alive in a way I have not seen since the original series.  But those who have not seen the TV series can take heart; the book provides all the information a reader needs to be able to jump right into the story.  With its bold protagonist, gripping plot, and carefully-crafted world, The Rise of Kyoshi is sure to appeal to any fan of YA fantasy.

The story starts with a twist, showing how Kyoshi, far from being raised in honor as the new Avatar, is abandoned, abused, and overlooked.  This makes her journey across the world feel very different from Aang’s, even though they are both racing to train in secret before their enemies find them.  Kyoshi, it turns out, has fewer moral scruples than Aang; she was raised in the dirt and she is willing to get dirty to enact justice.  Those who seek to control her for their own power are in for a surprise, because Kyoshi feels no need to play by the rules of a world that discarded her.

Kyoshi’s characterization is very strong, and readers will no doubt fall in love with her strength and her determination.  It is thus a pity that some of the other characterization feels weak in comparison.  The villain, in particular, seems to have a very sudden change of heart to provoke drama.  Revelations about the villain’s background do little to make their characterization seem consistent, but instead feel like belated attempts to convince readers they should hate this person. The issues raised by the villain about power and how it is wielded prove interesting, but seem to overshadow the actual character.

The ending, too, seems a little rushed; I was expecting the conflict in this book to carry farther into the next.  Instead, it seems like The Rise of Kyoshi might be following The Legend of Korra by choosing to focus on the Avatar’s difficulty accessing the spiritual world as the story moves forward.  The sequel will prove as gripping a read as the first book.  But I am disappointed that Yee really never forced Kyoshi to confront her demons in this first read; readers are left wondering exactly how far Kyoshi is wiling to go for revenge.

Despite a few weaknesses, however, The Rise of Kyoshi is ultimately a strong addition to the YA fantasy market, one with a beautifully-detailed world, a feisty protagonist, and a plot that will keep readers turning pages long into the night.  Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will definitely want to pick this one up.  But fans of YA fantasy may want to try it, too.

4 stars

The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino

The Rise of Kyoshi

Information

Goodreads: The Rise of Kyoshi
Series: Unnamed but set up for a sequel
Source: Purchased
Published: July 16, 2019

Official Summary

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.

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Review

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.

4 stars Briana

Avatar: Smoke and Shadow (Graphic Novel Review)

Avatar Smoke and ShadowInformation

Goodreads:  Smoke and Shadow
Series: Smoke and Shadow (3 volumes)
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Although it has been awhile since Zuko took control of the Fire Nation, he continues to face opposition from citizens still loyal to Ozai.  Then mysterious dark spirits demand Zuko’s death.  The price if the people fail to remove him: their children will disappear.  Zuko and Aang must address this new threat fast, before everything they worked to build crumbles.

Review

Avatar Smoke and Shadow

Disclaimer: I checked out all three volumes of the story from the library and read them at once, so my review is focused on discussing the overall story, rather than evaluating each volume for pacing and such individually.

Smoke and Fire is the fourth graphic novel trilogy set after the events of the Avatar TV series.  It drops readers into the heart of the Fire Nation, revealing some of the nation’s history while showcasing the threats Zuko continues to face as the new Fire Lord.  Like any Avatar story, however, the focus here is often on family and friendship, not just an action-packed plot.

While fans might be skeptical that the graphic novels would have the heart of the show, their fears will be unfounded.  One only has to read the characters’ dialogue with their voices and personality quirks from the animated series, and the books immediately come alive.  Katara and Sokka make only a brief appearance in this series (though I’m okay with that, considering how mushy Katara and Aang can be together), but just about every other fan favorite character will be back. Iroh particularly is the start of this installment, in my opinion.

Though the graphic novels sometimes seem to rely too heavily on creating conflict between Aang’s and Zuko’s ruling styles, the plot in Smoke and Shadow seems believable to me in a way the plot of The Promise did not.  It’s quite reasonable that Zuko would face opposition from citizens who were loyal to Ozai or who simply are resistant to change and feel things must have been better for the Fire Nation before.  The conflict here is real, and this time the reasons Zuko and Aang disagree with how to deal with it also seem plausible, rather than a cheap attempt by the writers to create some drama.

I enjoyed learning more about Fire Nation history and seeing some of my favorite characters spring into action once again.  These, rather than The Legend of Korra, are the sequels fan of The Last Airbender will want.

Briana

The Legend of Korra (TV Show Review)

The Legend of Korra Review

Summary

The Legend of Korra is set roughly 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Avatar Aang has passed, and now Avatar Korra of the Southern Water Tribe is responsible for restoring balance to the world.  Her first challenge will be facing the Equalists, a rebel group based in Republic City who believe that benders are abusing their powers to oppress non-benders and want to level the playing field.

Book 1: Air

Many Avatar fans will start The Legend of Korra on a tentative note. The reality is that the success of The Last Airbender is hard to follow, and the writers know this. They use the classic writing move of creating a main character who is the polar opposite of Aang, so no one will mistake Korra for a cheap Aang knock-off.  Unfortunately, this means Korra is an aggressive, angsty teen, and I am not a fan. She yells at people constantly as though that will solve her problems and screams at villains “You can’t do this!” as if she’s so entitled she actually expects them to listen.  Other characters think she’s strong and “tough as nails.” I personally think she has a lot to learn.

However, there are enough good points to the season to make it worth watching.  There are a number of great new characters, including Tenzen as Korra’s mentor and other new friends.  Naga isn’t as great of a companion as Appa, but I do love the secondary animal, Pabu.  The allusions to The Last Airbender are on point, and I also love the pro-bending element.

Book 2: Spirits

Book 2 is a frustrating let-down, and when I tried to watch the show when it originally aired, I stopped after this season. Why watch more than two seasons of a show you don’t like, right?  Here, Korra continues to act with an aggressive attitude I simply cannot find appealing.  Worse, she’s a fool. While I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling it, I can confidently say that half the problems that occur in this season are of Korra’s own making.  However, the show never acknowledges this and continues to frame the action as if Korra is making wise, necessary decisions, and everything is the villain’s fault.  The combination of Korra’s anger and ignorance is too much for me, and the only real highlight is what viewers learn about the first Avatar. However, the show gets better afterwards.

Book 3: Change

Book 3 is good.  Korra has a theme of introducing a new villain each season, once again differentiating itself from The Last Airbender, which had an overarching plot for all three seasons.  I might argue that the villains here are so powerful they’re almost boring (can anyone defeat these people?), but they definitely have a unique philosophy and method of operating.  It’s refreshing.  This season also has a lot to offer in terms of personal development  for many of the characters that viewers have come to know and love.  Finally, there are air bison, and no one can say no to that.

Book 4: Balance

The opening of Book 4 will have viewers scratching their heads and asking themselves whether angry Korra or emo Korra is a better look. (Seriously, can I just have Aang back?) It also has the problem that the characters, once again, look foolish for overlooking an extremely obvious plot by the new villain. However, this season does manage to continue on some of the high notes from Book 3, and it also continues to introduce old favorite characters from The Last Airbender.

Korra Collage

The Legend of Korra Book 2 Premiere: Review and Discussion

Korra Book 2

Book 2: Spirits of The Legend of Korra aired on Friday, September 13 in the United States with the first two episodes “Rebel Spirits” and “The Southern Lights.”  A sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, Korra follows the new Avatar as she attempts to restore balance to the world.  Beware of SPOILERS below.

Review

Though Book 1 arguably ended on a note conclusive enough to warrant ending the show, promises of an extended world had me excited for Book 2 from the beginning.  Not only do viewers get to follow Korra and her friends on more adventures, but they also get to meet some cool new characters, including Katara’s other children Kya and Bumi.   Trailers showed a more in-depth look at the spirit world, the introduction of the very first Avatar, and a more plot-centric role for Tenzin’s children.  So did the premiere live up to expectations?

Pacing

The opening sequence immediately struck me as concerning.  The creators had the challenging of hooking the interest of viewers while speedily updating them on the activities of the main characters during the six months that passed between Book 1 and Book 2.  It felt like too much was happening too fast, and that pace continued throughout the first two episodes.  After providing a quick background, the show immediately threw the characters into a new environment where another host of new characters had to be introduced.  The lives of Korra and her friends in Republic City seemed magically forgotten.

Following the second introduction, the show obviously had to step up the action–which it did primarily through relational tension (Korra yelling at everyone in sight) combined with what seemed like a random journey to open a spirit portal.  The significance of the portal remains unclear–Korra’s uncle Unalaq assures the Avatar that it will help ease the attacks on the South Pole, while also acknowledging that the attacks will not cease.  Does anyone know exactly what this portal does?  At any rate, I expected a mini quest just to get to the portal, but (SPOILERS) all Korra needed to do was Avatar-up.  It was, to say the least, rather anti-climatic.

Korra

Korra has more of an attitude than ever, which makes little sense to me now that she has grown more into her powers and has the calming influence of Tenzin.  Clearly the show just needed a little tension, and what better way to do that than to have Korra yell constantly at her boyfriend, her mentor, and her father for things over which they have no control/ did not even do?  It is bad characterization and only makes Korra an annoyance to viewers.  And, I wonder whether Korra learned anything from her fight with Amon.  Unalaq seems reminiscent of Tarrlok–smooth-talking and dangerous–yet she walks right into what viewers can only hope is not a trap.

However, hope remains that Korra will continue to grow.  Even though she frequently enters the Avatar state (presumably because she likes the power), Tenzin has cautioned that she does not fully understand what she is doing.  I think that means that in the future Korra will not be able to solve problems as easily as she solved the problem of the spirit portal, meaning more danger for her and more excitement for viewers.

The Other Characters

A host of new characters means a lot of variety for the new season.  Tenzin’s siblings Kya and Bumi have so far proven an entertaining addition to the ensemble, although we can no doubt expect to see some impressive fighting from them in the future.  Korra’s first cousins Desna and Eska were, in my opinion, a less welcome addition.  They play on both the stereotype of the creepy twins (like in the Inheritance Cycle) and the stereotype of twins who lack any individual identity because of their twin-ness.  I did not buy that Bolin could possibly find them attractive. Their father is thankfully less creepy, but so far he seems like another Tarrlok–perhaps the family dynamics are meant to distinguish him.

Although only Tenzin’s siblings really thrilled me as new characters, I have high hopes for the old ones.  I would love to see Jinora in a more active role and I am thrilled to see Asami move past her failed relationship with Mako to assert herself as a business leader.  Bolin with his optimism is always a treat, but I’m worried the creepy twins will hurt him.  Mako is less interesting now that his primary function seems to be acting as Korra’s boyfriend.  I miss the dynamic he had with Bolin.

The show has a pretty large cast of characters to follow, but I also hope we won’t lose track of old ones.  I wanted more Lin Beifong and I still hope we will learn more about her childhood.  A little more Pabu wouldn’t be amiss, either.

Discussion

Here are some prompts to get the discussion going, but feel free to bring up other points!

Was the premiere what you were expecting from Book 2?  What were your favorite parts and who were your favorite characters?  Do you think that Korra should have stopped with one season or are more seasons justified?  What do you hope to see in upcoming episodes?  Was any of Korra’s anger justified?  Did you find her to be a sympathetic character in the premiere?  Do you think that the nonbender/bender controversy was adequately addressed in Book 1?

Discussion Post: The Legend of Korra

Korra

 Book 2 of The Legend of Korra airs tomorrow night.  To celebrate, Pages Unbound is hosting a mini discussion.  So get ready to talk about your favorite characters, moments, quotes, and more!  And, be warned—if you have not yet seen Book 1, plenty of SPOILERS follow.

To get the discussion started here are some prompts.

Purple Ribbon

The Equalists

The Equalists of Republic City claim that nonbenders are oppressed by benders.  Avatar Korra counters that benders are necessary for the balance of the world.  But do the Equalists have a point?  In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the majority of warriors seemed to be benders and the only nonbenders able to counter their attacks were members of an elite force such as the Kyoshi Warriors, or otherwise possessed special skills such as Ty Lee’s chi blocking.  Can we assume that a nonskilled bender would have the advantage in a fight with a nonbender since benders would automatically receive training to control their skills while the majority of nonbenders would not receive training in martial arts?

A Changed World

The Legend of Korra, however, takes place in a very different world from Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Advanced technology now seems to have placed benders at a disadvantage.  As long as nonbenders can get close enough to a bender, they can easily use a chi blocking glove to overcome opponents.  Will bending become obsolete with new technologies?  Currently, even electrical plants and weapons seem to need bending to power them, but eventually it seems that the world will learn how to create technologies that can be used by anyone, and not only people with specific bending skills.

Along with increased technology, however, has come increased skill in the old arts.  In ATLA, it took a skilled nonbender to evade bending attacks.  Now it seems that Amon’s entire army has the same capabilities.  Likewise, metal bending has become commonplace and lightning is no longer used by a few noted benders like Azula.  Does anyone in Korra stand out as an exceptional bender or martial artist?  Or are all the characters so exceptional that some of the magic in watching their skills has faded?

Avatar Korra

Avatar Korra seems designed specifically to be the polar opposite of pacifist Aang.  She lacks patience, has difficulty connecting with her spiritual side, and goes into every situation fighting.  Viewers who remember ATLA may have expected Korra to develop more of a spiritual side in Book 1 or they may have assumed that she would learn to try other options before resorting to physical violence to solve her problems.  Did Book 1 disappoint in this respect?  Book 2 is called Spirits.   Will Korra learn more from Aang’s approach in the future?  Or was Korra’s fight with Amon justified and/or necessary?  Could Book 1 have ended any other way?

Team Avatar

Korra has a lot of allies—the ever optimistic Bolin, his more serious brother Mako, the amazing Asami, Tenzin, Lin, the Airbender children.  Even Naga and Pabu.  Do they manage to distinguish themselves from their predecessors or is Bolin really the new Sokka and Naga the new Appa?  Are they annoying?  Likeable?  Funny?  What characters do you hope to see more of in Book 2?  Katara’s other children?  Perhaps Zuko?  And what do you want to know about the former Team Avatar?  Will we ever learn about Lin’s father?