I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender when it was on Netflix the first time, around 2010 or so, and fell in love with it. I rewatched it probably three times in the next couple years, and then one day it was gone from Netflix. This was sad. So I had to buy the DVDs. Since then, about once a year I just get this craving to return to this world and rewatch, and I’ve since added Legend of Korra to that. I’ve also read all the Avatar comics continuations, which are pretty good. I find all of this very comforting.
If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender yet, please stop what you are doing and kindly head over to Netflix. (Legend of Korra is there, too!)
I’ve always loved learning about the Avatars before Aang and Korra, but when we learned in one of the comics that Avatar Kyoshi (the famously tall Avatar who was also the longest lived) was bisexual, I immediately needed to know so much more about her. When I heard this book was coming out, I was so excited I almost had an aneurysm. And then it had a sequel! (I really hope they sell well enough that there are more. I want to see grown-up Kyoshi doing her thing.)
What’s great about this book is that it’s nothing like I was expecting, and yet it fits in perfectly to the mythology of the Avatar universe. Since it’s technically YA, I was expecting a book full of YA tropes, but that’s not what we get here, at all. F.C. Yee does a really good job putting his own spin on it without making it seem like something totally different; this is still recognizably the same place Aang and Katara and company grew up in, even though it’s set about 400 years before the events of the show (Kyoshi lived for 230 years, Roku made it to seventy, and then Aang was stuck in the iceberg for another hundred).
Every Avatar has their own journey, and ways of being and growing into the Avatar, and every Avatar has a very different political landscape they are attempting to bring balance to. For Kyoshi, abandoned by her parents at a young age, and taken in by an airbender tasked with training the Avatar, she has always had a hard time finding her place in the world. She’s too tall, can’t control her earthbending, and often finds herself in the shadow of her friends. She doesn’t even know she’s the Avatar until she’s almost an adult. Instead, the world’s bending experts identify the Avatar as a boy called Yun, an extremely powerful and talented earthbender.
This got way darker than I was expecting, but I liked that about it. We get to see parts of the Avatar universe we haven’t seen before, and we learn not only about Kyoshi, but about her predecessors Kuruk and Yangchen (even a little about Szeto before her, but mostly that’s in the sequel), and quite a bit more about Avatar lore in general. I ended up buying both books in hardcover after getting them from the library, and I I know I will be revisiting them.