This month’s book club pick was Avatar the Last Airbender, Rise of Kyoshi. Kyoshi was the Earthbending Avatar two cycles before Avatar Aang and is known as one of the strongest Avatars ever. She was also one of the oldest, living over 200 years old.
The Rise of Kyoshi starts with the Avatar in the most humble of origins. From then on, follow her journey into becoming the most powerful being in her time. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it, especially for fans of the Last Airbender television series. I promise you don’t have to have watched the show to enjoy the book. Things will make a lot more sense if you have seen the show.
This review is about 95% spoiler-free, so be warned if you want to go in totally blind.
The world in Rise of Kyoshi almost feels worse off than the one Avatar Aang finds himself in. Even hundreds of years later, after being frozen in the iceberg. The Earth Kingdom appears to be in near shambles during Kyoshi’s time. It’s rife with corruption and filled to the brim with outlaws or (daofei as they’re referred to).
Even the people who can make an honest living kind of suck. Very few are willing to take in outsiders, which is where Kyoshi finds herself as a young child. An orphaned outsider in a small village where the people couldn’t care less whether she lived or died.
Throughout her journey, Kyoshi meets many others like herself — either abandoned or victims of circumstance. In a world like that, it almost makes sense that the Jianzhu would rather the Avatar focus on what would benefit the greatest number of people, even at the cost of helping the people who need it the most.
In this world, people like Jianzhu find individuals as a means to an end and just necessary collateral damage in the grand scheme of things. Only the wisest people (like him, of course) can keep the entire world from falling to pieces.
The people in power during Kyoshi’s life all seem to have an inflated sense of self. As if they aren’t beholden to the rules everyone else must abide by. Whatever crimes they commit are irrelevant because they commit them in the name of righteousness.
The hypocrisy of the people in power had me feeling many strong emotions while reading. I knew they would get what was coming to them. Eventually, this is a prequel, so the reader knows that everything will turn out okay in the end. The question was, how much damage and pain would the protagonists face in the meantime?
Rise of Kyoshi Review
Rise of Kyoshi lived up to the nuanced storytelling of the original show, which I appreciate as a longtime fan of the original show. Kyoshi and Aang are most definitely different people. That doesn’t mean they both don’t struggle with finding their way of doing things, even when everyone around them has their expectations of how things should be done.
It was so cool to see Kysohi begin to come into her power. It was also great to try to piece together her character in the book with what little we saw of her in the show. She went from a clumsy, awkward girl who thought she was worthless to a powerful bender with an unyielding sense of justice.
Aside from a riveting story, I also loved that there were plenty of references for fans of the original show to enjoy.
We got to learn how Kyoshi could live such a long life, where the famous face paint of the Kyoshi warriors came from, and even see some subtle influence from the White Lotus organization hundreds of years before it was made public knowledge.
Little details like animals seen in the Last Airbender show made it so easy to feel familiar with Kyoshi’s world soon after picking up the story. It was also a bit of a thrill to be ahead of certain explanations within the book, like why Jianzhu wanted shirshus.
Kyoshi’s story was all her own, but it was still nice to see the nods to Aang’s. He is, after all, the Avatar that started it all. At least for audiences.
4 War Fans out of 5
I would love to give Rise of Kyoshi a 5 out of 5. I just can’t due to how Lek’s storyline ends, though. To me, it just felt unnecessary and out of nowhere.
Reading out, Kyoshi became a true avatar with the help of her friends, and to some extent, even her enemies were a roller coaster. It is one I would ride again and again, though. Rise of Kyoshi is just the beginning of the extended Avatar lore. If you’re hungry for more, a sequel is already out, and more material about Yangchen should be coming soon too.
For more Avatar the Last Airbender content, check out our blog on what your favorite Avatar villain says about you! Sadly we didn’t include villains from Kyoshi’s time, just Korra and Aang’s.
If you enjoyed this month’s book club, be sure to join us for next month’s pick! We’re reading Hyde by Daniel Levine. In a reimagined take on the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we see things from Hyde’s perspective for the first time.