I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a book review for my blog (if ever?). After reading The Rise of Kyoshi though, I knew I needed to take to the blog for my honest thoughts about a book based upon one of the most renowned Avatars in the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra universe. We aren’t presented with the strong and powerful Kyoshi that is revered during Avatar, the Last Airbender. We are forced back in time to the very beginning of Kyoshi’s journey before she even knows that she is the Avatar, serving and befriending the false Avatar Yun. We travel with her on a heartbreaking journey as she discovers her past, her powers, and her true self.
After nine years of desperate searching for the next Avatar, the discovery of young, charming Avatar Yun has brought stability to the four nations—that is, until Earth Kingdom-born Kyoshi, Yun’s unassuming friend and servant, demonstrates remarkable bending during a mission to the South Pole. With the identity of the true Avatar at stake and the growing unrest among her allies turning into violence, Kyoshi is forced to flee the Avatar mansion with her fiery friend Rangi, taking little more than the metal war fans and headdress her parents left behind.
The story behind the longest-living Avatar in the history of this beloved world, “The Rise of Kyoshi” maps Kyoshi’s journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice still feared and admired centuries after becoming the Avatar.Avatar Wiki
Brief intro: Our story begins with introducing us to a shy and quiet Kyoshi. She has zero idea that she is the Avatar which presents an interesting perspective for those who are already up to date on Avatar, the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. The series touches on Kyoshi in a way that makes her sound and feel powerful and brave. We only got a taste of her origin story though.
The Rise of Kyoshi drops us right in as Kelsang and Jianzhu, departed Avatar Kuruk’s companions, search for the next Avatar in the Earth Kingdom. We meet Kyoshi as a seven-year-old orphaned child. She briefly participates in the test the Air Nomads designed to find the Avatar wherein the child will choose from a line of toys that includes the four relics belonging to previous Avatars. Kelsang and Jianzhu actually stole the ancient relics when the search for the Avatar in the Earth Kingdom continued to turn up fruitless in a last ditch effort to find the Avatar.
The orphan picked up a clay turtle, one of the relics, which hadn’t been touched at all by the thousands of Earth Kingdom children that had been through the line of toys that day. Kelsang, feeling a surge of wonder, invited her to take three more. Kyoshi, being afraid and never being shown any kindness in her life, ran away with the relic, scared that choosing another toy would lead to losing the clay turtle. Kelsang and Jianzhu continued their search for the Avatar after the brief interaction with Kyoshi.
After 9 long years, Yun is incorrectly presented as the Avatar. He’s a very talented earth bender with a personality of what any Avatar should strive for. The confirmation of finally having the Avatar begins to settle the four nations… but only a little. We meet Kyoshi again, 16 years old and taller than most at her age. We learn that Kelsang returned to her village not long after the test and took her in as one of his own. She began to work at the Avatar Mansion, a compound constructed by Jianzhu in preparation for the Avatar, and served and befriended Avatar Yun. Kyoshi, Yun, and Yun’s body guard, the fire-bending Rangi became a close knit group of friends within the walls of the Avatar Mansion as Yun continued to train and study as the Avatar.
During a trip to establish peace with a group of pirates at the South Pole, Kyoshi performs an earth bending technique of Avatar skill and throws Yun’s identity as the Avatar into question. Jianzhu takes it upon himself to perform another test to see which one of the teens is actually the Avatar resulting in the deaths of two of Kyoshi’s dearest friends. With everything quickly turning into chaos as Kyoshi tries to reconcile with the fact that she is the Avatar, now on the run from those she thought she could trust and unable to mourn the deaths of her loved ones, Kyoshi and Rangi flee on Kelsang’s flying bison with only a book left by her parents who abandoned her long ago to find the daofei, infamous criminals in the Earth Kingdom, with hopes to receive training fit for an Avatar from unlikely characters.
With vengeance in her heart, Kyoshi trains in secret to get revenge as she continues to try to find her path that is no longer the traditional path of previous Avatars, but her path takes her through so much more than she bargained for including finding herself, her voice, and her power.
Kyoshi’s sexuality may be a surprise to some Avatar fans if they haven’t been keeping up with the Legend of Korra comics. Legend of Korra: Turf Wars reveals that Korra is not the first LGBTQ+ Avatar; Kyoshi is said to have loved men and women during a conversation in which Korra and Asami disclose their relationship to another LGBTQ+ person. The novel The Rise of Kyoshi takes this exciting revelation into account, dropping lines about her crush on Yun as well as the fiery Rangi. However, I wish that the book explored her sexuality more than just a sentence or two about Kyoshi’s feelings towards Yun.
But we do get to see the relationship between Kyoshi and Rangi slowly develop which still gives me some of that LGBTQ+ representation I’ve been wanting to see. The best argument I can give here about the lack of straightforwardness (no pun intended) about her bisexuality is that the book simply isn’t just about that; rather, it’s meant to be an account of Kyoshi’s early life largely presented through her eyes and feelings. It’s not meant to be a romance book. Still, I wish we could have gotten more. I am hoping that the next novel dives more deeply into Kyoshi’s sexual orientation, especially with how the Earth Kingdom, her home, has been the most traditional of the four nations and most resistant to non-straight relationships.
A More Adult Look at the Avatar
If you were to put The Rise of Kyoshi against Avatar, the Last Airbender, you’ll notice an immediate change in audience. Much like Legend of Korra, I would say that this novel is meant for the older generation that grew up with the Last Airbender and enjoyed Legend of Korra for its more mature themes in the four nations and its Avatar. The Rise of Kyoshi dives into material that the Last Airbender wouldn’t have been able to touch with its younger target audience, and it is only matched by the later seasons of Korra… You know the ones that were moved to web only? Yeah, it’s that kind of book.
We watch Kyoshi struggle with violent vengeance and still needing to have the conscience of the Avatar, knowing once she crosses the threshold of taking a life, she will be changed forever. That said, I feel the envelope could have been pushed so much more. The novel toes the line of being almost too dark for young teens but doesn’t outright cross the line in the sand. I feel a much more “honest” account from Kyoshi’s view would have pushed this novel to its fullest potential and would have made the book more enjoyable overall to a reader like myself who enjoys darker YA series.
The Avatar’s Morality
The Avatar universe has always done a seriously good job of showing how Aang and Korra struggled with the moral decisions and actions of being the Avatar. The Rise of Kyoshi does not disappoint in this respect either and in fact pushes passed the limits to something that neither series was up to addressing: death. Watching the odds continue to stack against Kyoshi with an enemy that calls everything into question that she thought the Avatar was supposed to be. No one expects such a heavy subject that has been only hinted at in the TV shows and comics… Does she go against everything it means to be an Avatar and kill out of vengeance?
With her journey marked with death of loved ones, we’re forced to see the world of the Avatar through heavy darkness. I was left with more questions than answers as I sifted through the darkness with Kyoshi, but I was still left breathless within the pages of this novel, unable to put it down until I could have the answers I needed. Needless to say, I’m ready to get back to Kyoshi in the next installment: The Shadow of Kyoshi.
I want to wrap up this review of The Rise of Kyoshi by saying I truly enjoyed reading the first book. I had a hard time putting it down after reaching my chapter-per-night rule, and sometimes I snuck another chapter or two in before I knew I really had to get some sleep. The book itself has its flaws, as I stated above. I wish it were darker, grittier, and even, dare I say, sexier. It’s obvious the target audience was younger teens, but this book had the potential to really draw in YA readers whether they were fans of the TV show or not. Regardless, I still got what I came for: an account of Kyoshi becoming the Avatar and what she had to overcome.
Negatives aside, the world building is done very well. As someone who is familiar with the four nations and how being the Avatar works, the lore was done with justice, which makes sense as the author brought one of the original TV show writers into the mix. I am so glad they did, because poor knowledge of the Avatar universe could have really brought this two-book series down. I love the descriptions of areas and of the people. It was so easy to visualize the story in my mind as events played out.
With all of that said, I am itching to get back into Kyoshi’s world with the next book which will also get a review once I’ve finished it. I truly hope these novels do our first bisexual Avatar justice and we get to go deeper and darker with Kyoshi as she continues on her journey to becoming the Avatar.
Bottom Line: Older fans of Avatar, the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra NEED to pick up this set of novels if they want to dive back into the world of the Avatar with more adult themes and a focus on one of the most prolific Avatars of its universe.
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