Rise of Kyoshi – An Avatar the Last Airbender Novel

★★★★☆

Kyoshi is one of the most recognisable Avatars from The Last airbender. Her look, and her stern attitude have cemented her as an imposing and revered figure within the universe. So, when the Avatar team announced that the first of their novel series was going to delve into Kyoshi’s story, it was some of the best news for a while.

It’s a rip roaring read full of action, beauty, and tension. A stunning tale that melds perfectly into the franchise and adds more than enough to keep fans guessing. The world is painted in breathtaking colours, the characters detailed and nuanced. It’s like diving back into the original series at times.

You will fall in love with Kyoshi, but you will fear her, too. She carries the story by the strength of her convictions, her passion for her friends, and her destiny as the Avatar. If you are a fan of the series, this will be a perfect addition to your collection.

First Impressions

The book is tremendously enjoyable and feels like it has been plucked out of the Avatar universe. But I’d be lying if I said it felt exactly right. The animation medium of the original had so many aspects that it has been hard for the creators to recreate in comic form. Recreating them in novels is perhaps even more difficult.

Capturing the movement, the artistic style, and above all the soundscape of the Avatar universe is a mammoth task. So much of the look, feel and sound of it is felt in the lovingly crafted images, and the breathtaking music.

Jeremy Zuckerman’s (interview HERE) soundtrack is the thing I miss the most, here, so I did feel the need to have some of his classics playing on my computer while I read. Creating the subtly detailed world and populating it with the unique loving touches the series was famous for, just doesn’t translate to page.

For the animated series, there were teams of people working on any given scene. Here we have F.C. Yee and Mike DiMartino (interviewed here!). It was always going to be a struggle. A picture says a thousand words, and we’ve only got 400 pages.

Earth Avatar

Let’s start with Kyoshi herself. She is the linchpin on which this whole novel series will depend. Given how strong her characterisation has been in the brief flashbacks and spirit guidance scenes in The Last Airbender were, I was worried it would be hard to live up to.

This is the first book in a duology, so the pace can be a little slow at times, and it takes some time for Kyoshi to find her feet. This was quite the bold decision, given what we know of her later in life, some people may find it a little hard to swallow. But it builds the tension for fans, knowing who she will become later in life, and draws new readers to get to know her.

In the early chapters, she stays at a distance from events rather than driving them personally. Avatar is a series built on character driven stories, so her initial reluctance to involve herself where she didn’t feel welcome did make things feel slow at times. But as soon as her destiny is discovered, and the terrible consequences that means, things speed up immediately.

There is a lot done with her character to subvert what you might be expecting of her. While she can be stern and uncompromising, brutal, even, she has a heart that is simply bursting with love. Her love for her companions, her love for the world, is what drives her on. Her sense of justice and her hot headedness can both help and hinder her in equal measure.

In spite of her hard edges, you can still see the playfulness that has defined so many Avatars we’ve known. Wan’s sense of fairness, Aang’s heavy burden and reluctance to deal with his own feelings, Korra’s rhy humour. We see these glimpses into the Avatar we know and love again and again.

 

Three’s Company

Kyoshi is not alone, of course. So much of Avatar is about the connections and bonds forged between people, nations, and between spirits and the world. It took me a while to warm to some of Kyoshi’s friends. Yun is drawn well to begin with (for reasons later discussed), but it is Rangi the firebender who was most important.

Rangi grew on me, slowly. At times she embodies the stereotypical Firebender, obsessed with honour, discipline, and more honour. When her walls come down and she expresses her feelings openly, her scenes are intensely enjoyable.

The gang Kyoshi joins up with for her adventures are an interesting bunch. I was reminded of The Red Lotus from The Legend of Korra Book Three. Elite benders with unique powers, pulled from all nations, and all with secrets to keep. Yet they have very different motivations, and their chaotic approach is so at odds with Kyoshi’s desire for order, that the drama this causes is enticing.

Their introduction does come a little late in the game to really get to know most of them particularly well, however, and I can only hope more will be seen later.

The Legend of Kyoshi

As for the story, Rise of Kyoshi does a good job in setting up the basics of what’s to come. The book’s three acts give us a firm foundation to build off. The story lacks focus for almost the first half of the book, however, and it is hard to see a definitive ‘quest’ until almost three quarters of the way through.

The character work carries much of the early book, though. The intrigue over the identity of the Avatar, feels interesting at first, but the tension falls a little flat. Fans of the series and new readers will look at the title RISE OF KYOSHI and come to the conclusion that is all too obvious. That this case of mistaken identity goes on for so long is a bit of a misstep in places, I feel.

However, as I mentioned, the characters are what save it. Seeing how Kyoshi reacts to the others, and how she builds herself over the course of events is a delight. She goes from a fairly timid servant girl to one of the most powerful Avatars in the cycle.

★★★★☆

The Rise of Kyoshi is OUT NOW!

 

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.