The latest book in the 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' universe gives us one of its most compelling relationships

"The Shadow of Kyoshi."Abrams Books
  • "The Shadow of Kyoshi," a prequel story set in the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" universe written by F.C. Yee, was released on July 21.
  • The novel is the second installment in Yee's prequel series, which gives Avatar Kyoshi an origin story of her own.
  • "The Shadow of Kyoshi" is character-driven and full of worldbuilding details that make it a rewarding read for both "Avatar" fans and newcomers alike.
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It's the summer of "Avatar: The Last Airbender." With the beloved series available on Netflix and its sequel series, "The Legend of Korra," on its way there in August, the franchise is more readily available to fans than it's been in years. Now, the franchise's revitalized fandom has a new book, too.

F.C. Yee's "The Shadow of Kyoshi" is the second installment of a prequel series about one of the most fabled Avatars of all time. Building off of 2019's "The Rise of Kyoshi," the series follows Kyoshi, an Avatar known in the main series for her strength, longevity, and uncompromising judgment, during the nascent stages of her Avatarhood. In turn, it serves to humanize one of the "Avatar" franchise's most legendary characters.

"The Shadow of Kyoshi" builds off of a precedent set by "The Rise of Kyoshi"

Kyoshi's beginnings weren't particularly auspicious. The Avatar is an individual tasked with mastering all four elements and their bending disciplines, learning how to mainpulate and fight using water, earth, fire, and air. In turn, they're tasked with bringing balance to the world, mitigating both human and spiritual conflict in the four nations: The Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads. Each Avatar faces a unique set of challenges in carrying out this mission.
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In "The Rise of Kyoshi," everyone (including Kyoshi) believes that another Earth Kingdom boy, Yun, is the next Avatar. Living, working, and training at the estate of Jianzhu, a powerful Earth Kingdom politician, Kyoshi and Yun are friends. A violent encounter reveals their mistaken identities, cementing Kyoshi as the next Avatar and setting her on a path towards revenge.

"The Shadow of Kyoshi" is haunted by the specter of that encounter, while still maintaining the first novel's wry sense of humor and adventure. After accepting a summons from the Fire Lord himself (with, of course, the promise of reuniting with her lover and Firebending master Rangi), Kyoshi finds herself trapped in a foreign political snare while simultaneously grappling with a new threat from the spirit world. Given that she's spent the better part of her Avatarhood hunting down corrupt bandits and detaching herself from the politics of her own nation, the situation leaves Kyoshi out of her depth.

The novel features exciting new worldbuilding details

The weighty, political conflict is just as thrilling as the action sequences peppered throughout the novel. Garden parties are just as fraught with tension as intense battles; strained clan relations have the potential to cause more trouble than physical threats. It also leaves ample room for granular worldbuilding, including new details about previous Avatars, like the oft-maligned Kuruk and the venerated Yangchen, as well as tidbits of information about geography, political history, and language that wasn't touched upon in the animated series.
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Yee's prose is also just as visceral as "Avatar's" renowned animation sequences. Regarding "The Rise of Kyoshi," the author told Polygon in 2019 that he looks for "moments that were more easy to capture in a novel format, in particular where the action suddenly turns on a dime" rather than attempting to capture every beat of a single action scene. Those intense, pivotal moments are what make "The Shadow of Kyoshi" a harrowing read, bringing an emotional resonance and vibrancy that cuts through the page.

'The Shadow of Kyoshi's' greatest strength lies in its characters

A new cast of auxiliary companions and antagonists keep things lively, each imbued with their own complexities and mystery that prevent them from becoming just side characters to the larger conflict. Kyoshi's Airbender companion, Jinpa, and his sky bison Yingyong, are particularly fun additions to the story, in addition to a cast of Fire Nation nobles that drive the political arc of the novel. Rangi and Kyoshi's relationship is the most compelling. With the realization of feelings and "getting together" out of the way in the first novel, "The Shadow of Kyoshi" gives the two women plenty of space to be tender, bicker, fight, and reconcile over the course of the book. That's part of what makes their relationship feel so different from other romantic entanglements in the "Avatar" universe: the franchise has never shied away from love stories, but both "The Last Airbender" and "The Legend of Korra" end with romantic resolution rather than grapple with the relationships after the fact (although their central romances are continued in spin-off comics).
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The fact that Kyoshi and Rangi have the most fully fleshed-out queer love story in the "Avatar" canon shouldn't go unmarked either. A "Legend of Korra" spin-off comic revealed in 2017 that Kyoshi was bisexual, and it's a promise that Yee made good on in "The Rise of Kyoshi," telling Polygon at the time that it felt important to not strip away Kyoshi's queerness and "do her relationships justice." In "The Shadow of Kyoshi," Yee explores the complexities of Kyoshi and Rangi's relationship — and the ways that it affects their judgment, particularly in times of crisis — with nuance and empathy. Their relationship is foundational to Kyoshi's ascendance, and legacy, as the Avatar. In many ways, Rangi serves as her emotional and moral center.

"The Shadow of Kyoshi" is a rewarding read for both dedicated "Avatar" fans and newcomers alike. Ultimately, it exceeds the task of fleshing out Kyoshi's origin story, delivering a compelling character-driven narrative that bears just as much emotional heft as any other entry into the franchise.

"The Shadow of Kyoshi" is now available for purchase and debuted at number two on the New York Times Young Adult Hardcover Bestseller List.
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