As literally everyone and their mom did during quarantine , I too decided to re-watch the Avatar series, starting with The Last Airbender, of course, finishing all three seasons in lighting speed, and then moving on to The Legend of Korra, taking my time with the 4 seasons and appreciating every Korrasami moment I could get.
I only realized midway through The Legend of Korra that besides the comics that were available for both series, there was also something else – a novel featuring another Avatar. But it would not be the Earthbender following after Korra, but instead one of the past Avatars, even predating the one before Aang.
Since we basically got introductions for 5 more Avatars besides Aang and Korra, Kyoshi struck me as the most interesting one of the bunch, thanks to the short scenes in which we see her speak to the current Avatar and offer her wisdom – which basically created a still ongoing meme online of her simply going around wanting to kill people.
Seeing that I love funny memes, strong women, and the Avatar universe, I guess you could say they had me at hello, but what actually got me to jump right onto the hype train was rather the fact that Kyoshi was rumored to be bisexual and to even have a female love interest.
Long story short, the day I found out about that, I immediately marched into a bookstore and got my copy of the book, to my shame, in German and not in English, as I actually had some troubles going through the English reading sample. Well then again, this is not exactly your typical kid’s book – far from it actually.
While the story starts off showing Kyoshi as a 7-year-old child, living alone on the streets of a small Earth Kingdom town after her parents just left her to fend for herself, we don’t really get to see her being happy or shown kindness much. She was lucky enough to have been taken in by a kind Airbender, Kelsang, who she would soon see as something like a father figure. But good things don’t seem to last long for her, as both Kelsang and one of her closest friends, who at the time was falsely believed to be the Avatar, both get killed right in front of her. Worse even, they get killed because of her turning out to be the Avatar.
I’ve seen how the whole Avatar series has kind of matured from The Last Airbender obviously being a full-fledged kids show, to The Legend of Korra still trying to appeal to the same audience while also featuring some more mature, and at times, not so “child-friendly” scenes, like the ending of season one, where we basically see suicide/murder happen on-screen.
However, seeing how the latter struggled so much during its days, always being either pushed back to later air times or even being fully removed from TV and instead made available only online, I can see how The Rise of Kyoshi, being in book format, could basically be more open and free to depict a more adult-oriented story this time. And that is exactly what we get, a story that is not afraid to delve into a different territory – in a lot of ways.
Getting back to the story, after Kyoshi sees Kelsang and her friend Yun being killed by the teacher and master of the falsely believed Avatar Yun, she flees from her hometown, takes the only friend she has left, Rangi, with her and starts a new life, not letting anyone but Rangi know about her being the Avatar.
What I always found interesting is how Kyoshi’s reasons to master all the elements and truly become the Avatar are so vastly different from say Aang, who only did so because he felt guilty and didn’t know how else to stop the ongoing war, or Korra, who basically just went along with it because it was exciting and being the Avatar is awesome.
Kyoshi, on the other hand, needed to master the elements first and foremost for revenge and to protect herself from the man who took the life of the people she loved. She promises to kill him, and on her journey, picks up some more names to put on her secret killing list. That’s certainly new for an Avatar.
For once, I feel like the series has actually embraced something new and different, having matured with the audience that followed the series from the early 2000s where it all started.
And finally, they go all-out on the romance shown between the characters, in this case Kyoshi and Rangi. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a die-hard supporter of Korra and Asami, having loved the heavy subtext from the show and having outright celebrated the unfiltered love shown in the comics that followed after.
However, I feel like this book takes it even a step further, as we actually focus on the relationship between the two girls as the main source of Kyoshi’s happiness. It all starts with a silly love poem, a night shared in the same bed consoling each other after hardship, and then it moves on to full-on romance, with one of the most endearing love declarations I’ve ever seen.
The whole book is basically sprinkled with little bits and pieces of their love, and whenever I thought—or feared—that the author would not dare put more gay romance in this, and do I have to remind you that this book still has Nickelodeon printed on its back, there was yet again more.
Snuggling up on the beach, heated kisses during training, and just the cutest little arguments that clearly stem from the fact that they deeply care for each other. It’s perfect.
Plus, their relationship just makes sense and is hinted at from the very beginning. I know, I might actually enrage some people when saying this, but how Korrasami happened or played out in the final season of The Legend of Korra wasn’t quite as obvious as some might make it seem. There were, of course, hints, like the two of them spending more time alone together or Korra outright blushing after receiving a compliment from Asami, but for me, it was still a big surprise to see it actually happen. Kyoshi and Rangi, on the other hand, literally just work from the moment we first see them together. There are some more obvious hints and when it finally happens, you don’t end up being surprised or confused even, but rather feel satisfied that what was hinted at actually happened.
All in all, I can say that I’m very happy with how this book paints a darker and more mature Avatar adventure that doesn’t fear venturing deep into our beloved LGBT territory without feeling the need to mask it under a heavy layer of subtext. All I could wish for now is for the second book to continue in the same manner, and of course, for Netflix or whomever really, to pick this up and make it into a TV show.
+ A more adult-oriented story
+ An amazing addition to the Avatar universe
+ A touching and exciting romance between Kyoshi and Rangi
– It’s not easy to pick this book up if you have no prior knowledge of the Avatar universe
– The yuri moments could have been a bit longer
Total Enjoyment: 9/10