Title: The Rise of Kyoshi
Author: F.C. Yee, Michael Dante DiMartino
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now
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. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: Full disclosure, I absolutely loved F.C. Yee’s debut novel The Epic Crush of Genie Lo (review here and author interview here), which is a sort of modern take on Chinese mythology including such legendary figures as the Sun Wukong, Monkey King. The whole book is a fun and wild ride, and I highly recommend it. Of course, going into The Rise of Kyoshi, my expectations were pretty high.
First of all, I have to say, I’m really glad that the Avatar: The Last Airbender team went with an Asian American author for the series. I love Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about an Asian-inspired fantasy show run by primarily non-Asian creators, and the way the Chinese language was used in the show as a shortcut for worldbuilding. But reading The Rise of Kyoshi went a long way toward fleshing out this beloved world, and I’m pretty happy about that.
The Rise of Kyoshi takes place prior to the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, focusing on a previous and all-around badass avatar named Kyoshi. This novel is essentially her origin story of how she goes from being a servant to becoming the newly-minted avatar, on the run from the authorities, with outlaws as her companions.
This book is entirely different in tone from the cartoon. It doesn’t pull its punches, and while there are lighthearted and hilarious moments, it’s not exactly the zany, slapstick humor of the show. Over the course of the story, Kyoshi grapples with injustice, moral grey areas, and her own (queer!) love. While I’m sure the story will expand in scope during the sequels, The Rise of Kyoshi is laser focused on the Earth Kingdom, and all its attendant corruption and political complexities.
I came away from The Rise of Kyoshi both haunted and intrigued. The story is pretty brutal (or I’m just a wimp), and you end the book with a lot of food for thought, and a hunger for more. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel, and would recommend this book without reservation to anyone who’s looking for a quality fantasy novel, and anyone who loves Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Recommendation: Buy it now — especially if you’re a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender!