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.
This is a monumental task in itself- taking a protagonist from a popular medium whose history has only been hinted at and bringing them to life within their own story. Literally building them from the ground up based upon a set of cornerstones. F.C. Yee does a very fine job of presenting the tale of Kyoshi- one of the most prominent Avatars in the storyline. Previously the only one we’d really gotten into was Roku, the Firebender who stood beside Tozin up until the Great War began.
With so much history to deal with, the real problem comes with pigeonholing the story into a limited timeframe… ok- a 230 year lifespan ain’t so limited, but key events do have to happen at certain points in time, so there’s always that to deal with.
Kyoshi’s journey is hardly straightforward- which seems like a prerequisite for this universe. The twists, turns & detours that fill her path are both surprising and ordinary- some you can see coming while others will have you rereading paragraphs (whoa- did that just happen?). And there’s plenty of twists to keep you on your toes about what comes next. Not bad.
The tone’s a lot darker than I expected for a YA Avatar- also a welcome surprise. While AtLA didn’t delve into deeper issues until the end of the series, this one remains a hazy shade of deep gray all the way through, especially when it comes to villians and other shady folks. Like all good stories, it’s the villian who drives the plot and the best villains are the ones who never see themselves as such but also have a strong case to make. Or at least think they have one.
Author Yee does a good job of balancing all the characters he introduces. Like all Avatars, the masters of each discipline figure prominently in their lives and Kyoshi’s circuitous path leads her towards a intriguingly diverse group of teachers. One of whom felt like a red herring; I’m not entirely certain what’s going on with this individual.
Only real complaint is the LGBT aspect of the story. Not really being into the Korra series, I’ve missed a lot- like her relationship with Asami- but before this I never saw anything that indicated Kyoshi was bisexual, so to me it comes off as kinda forced and trendy- like when we used to always have the token Black Friend or Sassy Gay Male. Plus the utter convenience of her Love Interest also came across as lame.
The ending’s kinda anti-climatic; even though the plot of the next book is pretty much laid out you’re left wondering why this one wrapped up so quickly when there seemed like there was so much more to do with it. But I guess we’ll see.