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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Nickelodeon's 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Universe to Expand with Two New Novels Exploring the Life of Avatar Kyoshi

Originally published: Wednesday, August 30, 2018.

The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is set to expand once more in a series of original novels!

EW has announced that Nickelodeon has partnered with Abrams Children’s Books for a new series of YA novels set in the universe of The Last Airbender, and centered on Avatar Kyoshi, the longest-living human Avatar in history at over 230 years old, whom fans know very little about. The two books included in the deal will be written in consultation with Michael Dante DiMartino, the co-creator and executive producer of Avatar: The Last Airbender and its follow-up The Legend of Korra. F.C. Yee (The Epic Crush of Genie Lo) serves as author.

The first of the two books, The Rise of Kyoshi, will be explore her origin story as she established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of the Earth Kingdom. “Avatar Kyoshi is one of the characters fans often ask me about, so I’m excited to have the opportunity to help expand on her legend,” DiMartino said in a statement.

Avatar: The Last Airbender ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon, from 2005 to 2008, eliciting acclaim for its animated design, characterization, and world-building; it went on to win Emmy and Peabody Awards, and has built a significant fandom in the decade since it went off the air. A sequel, The Legend of Korra, ran from 2012 to 2014, and several comics and graphic novels based on the original series have been published, including the series The Lost Adventures (2005-2011), which took place between events of the show.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Michael Dante DiMartino, Nickelodeon, and critically acclaimed author F.C. Yee to add to the canon of Avatar: The Last Airbender,” said Andrew Smith, senior vice president and publisher of Abrams Children’s Books. “Bringing Kyoshi’s previously untold story to life in original novels will be a major pop culture event, not only for fans of the show, but also for readers hungry for a new epic YA saga. The Rise of Kyoshi has all the hallmarks of what YA readers love — bold storytelling set in a rich landscape with a strong heroine at the forefront!”

Avatar: The Rise of Kyoshi will publish under Abrams Children’s Books' Amulet Books imprint on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 and will cost $18.99 (USD). The hardback book will contain 336 pages, and the title will also be available to purchase as a eBook. You can pre-order the book here.

Below is Abrams Children’s Books' official product description for The Rise of Kyoshi:

"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."


F. C. Yee grew up in New Jersey and went to school in New England. His first book with Abrams, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, released in 2017 to critical acclaim and four starred reviews. He currently lives and writes in Denver, Colorado. Michael Dante DiMartino is co-creator and executive producer of the Avatar series and the author of Rebel Genius.


Update (7/14/2019) -- From ScreenRant:

Avatar: The Last Airbender Prequel Novel Tells 'The Rise of Kyoshi'

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Complete Series is available on Blu-ray today!

Every fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender knows that no matter how mighty an Avatar may become, they are only the latest in line... and unlikely to ever match the legendary Kyoshi; one of the strongest, greatest, and most fearsome Avatars that had ever lived. Now thanks to her very own prequel novel, the story of The Rise of Kyoshi will finally be told.

The Last Airbender series allowed its hero, Aang, to commune with the previous incarnations of the Avatar. Aang relied mainly on Avatar Roku, his immediate predecessor. But as his story, and later The Legend of Korra offered a glimpse of the Avatar before Roku--an imposing woman named Kyoshi of the Earth Kingdom--it was clear one of the most intriguing stories in the Airbender universe was being held for a later date. Thanks to writer F.C. Yee, that time has come, with The Rise of Kyoshi and the announced Shadow of Kyoshi recounting the origins of the Avatar. And based on our time with the book and our interview with Yee, fans are going to have a LOT to talk about when the book arrives on July 16th, 2019.

Reading through the accomplishments of Kyoshi's life, the shadow she casts over the future that followed only grows longer. The longest-living Avatar (and human) after dying at the age of 230. The one person Chin the Conqueror couldn't overcome. The founder of the Kyoshi Warriors, who make their home on the island Kyoshi forced free from the mainland--one of the most stunning uses of Earthbending fans will ever find. Screen Rant had the chance to speak with F.C. Yee about shaping this origin story with Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino, building out the world before The Last Airbender begins, and much, much more.

You've made it no secret that you were a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender before tackling this novel. There don't seem to be too many 'casual' fans of Avatar, but can you tell us a bit about how this project first came to your attention, and how being a fan factored into your response? Was it a matter of seconds before you were on board with telling Kyoshi's story?

During a conference where I was promoting my debut novel The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, the publisher at Abrams, Andrew Smith, turned to me and cryptically asked “Are you a fan of Avatar by any chance?” Of course I told him yes, but after that we didn’t say anything further about it. I knew that Abrams had a prior working relationship with Nickelodeon on some children’s books so I may have had some inkling why he’d ask that out of the blue, but I never brought it up again (probably out of fear of jinxing whatever project might be brewing).

Months later, I found out that Abrams had submitted a proposal to Nickelodeon for a prequel novel series about Avatar Kyoshi, and that all parties were game for it if I was. I was shocked at the size of the project and thrilled that it was focused on my favorite of the pre-Aang Avatars. The fan in me said YES, immediately. My agent translated my enthusiasm into a calmer, more rational response, and from there, we moved forward.

The Rise of Kyoshi is a story that you shaped with Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino, a driving force in building and expanding the lore to begin with. What was that collaboration like when it came to sketching out Kyoshi's story--and at what point did you get to take the reins and start putting words to paper?

Mike, Nickelodeon Editor Joan Hilty, Abrams Editor Anne Heltzel, and I did a significant amount of outlining and “axe-sharpening” before I started writing. Mike is a master storyteller, so in those first few calls he was less concerned with technical lore and more focused on giving me guidance about characters, motivations, and forces of antagonism. He let me pitch a lot of different ideas and follow their progressions in outline form. Eventually, we came to a story direction that we thought worked for the character and the universe, and I started writing on my lonesome.

The amount of time we spent up front was immensely valuable. Because we made the creative investment, I clocked my production rate at four times my historical average (I am a tech nerd; this is how we talk). Mike and the other parties involved gave me the perfect combination of feedback and hands-off trust to run with the story. I didn’t stick perfectly to the outline, but the skeleton allowed me to build the rest of the book with confidence.

It's almost funny to watch the series now, and see Kyoshi introduced as what must be one of the most intriguing Avatars and characters in the world of Avatar... and then realize her full story hasn't actually been told! Were you one of the fans who wanted to know more about her when the opportunity first arose? Was that a 'dream come true' scenario or added pressure, knowing you're the one who's finally telling it?

Years ago, I adored the glimpses of Avatar Kyoshi we got in the series since so much was conveyed about her in a small number of scenes. She was almost like a Boba Fett whose actions and attitude backed up her reputation. For me, watching the shows, her appearances as a foil to Aang were so effective and satisfying that I honestly hadn’t given that much thought into wondering more about her personally until I started writing these books.

Once I had the opportunity to write her backstory though, the possibilities exploded, and I became eager to figure out what paths led her to become the person we see in the show. It was both a dream and a terrifying, pressure-filled experience. If I botched her story, I’d never forgive myself as a fan, not to mention disappointing the community that loves this universe.

To travel back to the start of Kyoshi's story, readers are brought into a different world than the one they know from Avatar and Korra. Without spoiling anything, what should readers be prepared for, or know heading in? Because the temptation to pause on just about every page and dive into the Avatar wiki is going to be hard to resist (...I may be speaking for myself here).

I drew upon history for thematic inspiration (more so than direct events), which meant the setting of this book is woven with a lot of internal turmoil. Nothing is monolithic, and the greatest threats are often the ones closest by. I wanted to capture that feeling when you read about a crisis that happened in the past and marvel at how people back then managed to keep everything together. Institutions and beliefs that we’re used to from “current” times may not have formed or solidified yet. It’s a bit darker in parts than the shows, hopefully not gratuitously so. Some of that is due the above, and some due to its category as a YA novel.

The Rise of Kyoshi also expands on the mythology and history in ways that open up new stories. Was that part of the goal, or an added bonus in the process? I think The Fifth Nation in particular is going to be a prime example.

Those new possibilities are more of an added bonus since the primary purpose of their inclusion was to support Kyoshi’s story. In order for them to feel sufficiently rich though, they got a level of detail that could be fruitful for whatever creator that might want to use them.

The Fifth Nation, for example, is loosely based off the forces of the pirate queen Ching Shih, plus a lot of pirate history in general. While I simply wanted them to be effective and believable seaborne marauders, it meant hinting at more stories the reader isn’t seeing.

Kyoshi is noteworthy for more than just her status, since she is one of the few, and likely the most influential LGBTQ+ character in the larger Avatar universe. I'm sure there are fans of the series who will only now discover that, so was it something you felt important to include?

I did feel that was very important to include. Kyoshi is mentioned to be bisexual in the Legend of Korra: Turf Wars comic. Some readers will be coming into the book already knowing that and looking for how her love life is portrayed, and others might be discovering it in the novel itself. Either way, since since media representation is so important, it felt crucial not to leave her relationships out.

Kyoshi feels particularly timely, and complex in this novel: she's underestimated, strong, formidable, and feared, but she isn't perfect, either. Fans know her legacy is a mixed one, with massive successes and questionable or even bad calls. Since her origin story can't really address that legacy directly, did it still factor into the start of her journey?

Absolutely. One of the main goals of this story was to convince readers how it was possible for Kyoshi to create the mixed legacy she did. If I wasn’t going to show her dropping Chin the Conqueror as an adult, I was going to try to show how she became the type of person that would do so without remorse. She starts out very different than the person we see in the show; since narrative arcs demand change, her end affects her beginning from a creative standpoint.

The Avatar fans who can't stand the wait for The Rise of Kyoshi can also dive into your Genie Lo novels (Epic Crush and the upcoming Iron Will), to see another fierce young woman chosen for greatness. Was the transition from those books to Kyoshi as almost 'fated' as it now seems?

There is admittedly a great deal of overlap. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is about a nigh-invulnerable young woman who hates injustice and isn’t afraid of confrontation. I believe that part of the Avatar pitch was pointing at the existing book I’d written as a demonstration I could handle Kyoshi’s story. The humor and action-comedy nature of ATLA was undoubtedly a big influence on the Genie Lo series.

In some sense it felt similar going from Genie Lo to Kyoshi. Both protagonists would rather move mountains than let evil get its way. But ultimately I found myself focusing on their uniqueness. Genie is hot-tempered and quippy but deep down, a big softy inside. Kyoshi is level-headed, a woman of few words, and well, we all know how soft her personality ends up being.

Rise is just the first of two novels diving into Kyoshi's story in the larger Avatar universe, so in that sense, the ending isn't really 'the end.' Without spoiling, how do you hope readers will feel once they put down The Rise of Kyoshi after that final page?

I guess I hope readers feel a bit like Kyoshi herself- struck by the sudden realization that while the beginning may have ended, there’s so much more business to take care of and story to tell.

The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee arrives on Tuesday, July 16th, with the second book in the series The Shadow of Kyoshi to follow.


From Entertainment Weekly:

How The Rise of Kyoshi YA novel finds new things to love about Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Avatar lives again! Just as the titular character of Avatar: The Last Airbender is constantly reincarnated from one elemental nation to the next, so too has the Avatar universe grown — from its beginnings as an animated TV show, to a live-action movie, then to tie-in graphic novels, and now to prose novels.

This week sees the release of The Rise of Kyoshi, the Avatar universe’s very first canonical prose novel. Written by F.C. Yee (The Epic Crush of Genie Lo) with advisement from Michael Dante DiMartino (who originally co-created Avatar: The Last Airbender with Bryan Konietzko), The Rise of Kyoshi is a stunning revitalization of Avatar storytelling that uses the YA novel format to explore new depths within its world, exploring the internal mental state of element-bending and developing a compelling same-sex romance.


True to its title, the new novel focuses on Avatar Kyoshi. Born into the Earth Kingdom (one of the four nations of the Avatar world, each matched to one of the classic elements), Kyoshi held the Avatar mantle two generations before Aang, the famed “last airbender.” Longtime Avatar fans may have first heard of Kyoshi in one of the earliest episodes of The Last Airbender, “The Warriors of Kyoshi,” in which Aang and his friends first encountered the Kyoshi Warriors of Kyoshi Island. The all-female group were capable fighters who protected their ancestral homeland while dressed in the kabuki makeup of their namesake idol and wielding her trademark weapons: Fans.

Kyoshi’s unique look made her a visual stand-out whenever Aang was greeted by visions of his past lives. But The Rise of Kyoshi looks at the woman behind the makeup, showing how she went from a dirt-poor nobody to an inspiring legend. Thanks to the prose format, Yee’s novel has the space to expand on mythology that was only hinted at in previous works. Readers don’t get to see Kyoshi bend the elements with martial arts the way Aang did on screen, but they do get to live inside her head and see the Avatar world from a whole new angle.

As The Last Airbender unfolded, it occasionally granted additional pieces of information about Kyoshi. Fans learned she was renowned as one of the most powerful Avatars ever, who lived to 230 years of age. Whenever she manifested herself to speak through Aang (as all past Avatars can do), she displayed a strong sense of justice. Unlike the peace-loving Aang, Kyoshi possessed an iron will to see justice done at all costs. This attitude clearly produced both good and bad results. Kyoshi’s separation of Kyoshi Island from the Earth Kingdom mainland successfully protected the community for posterity and ended the tyrannical ambitions of Chin the Conqueror, but made her a reviled figure in Chin’s hometown. Kyoshi also founded the elite Earth Kingdom secret police known as the Dai Li, who protected the Earth King’s life at the cost of slowly funneling the monarch’s political power into their own shadowy order.

The character we meet in The Rise of Kyoshi is a long way from all that, though.

“What was appealing to me was how with limited screen time, she was such an effective foil to Aang in the original series. They don’t spend that much time together, but it’s so interesting to watch them play off each other with their different approaches to problem-solving,” Yee tells EW. “That got me into thinking about what could be filled in. What kind of experiences would she have had to go through in order to arrive at the woman we see as an adult, who briefly appears and advises Aang, and owns up to slaying a conqueror, and doesn’t take any BS from anyone? She must have seen some pretty intense stuff to give her that edge.”

Abrams Books

Granted, every Avatar needs years of training to master the four elements and grow into their destiny as the savior of the world, but Kyoshi isn’t even recognized as the Avatar at the beginning of the novel. The earthbending sage Jianzhu and the airbending master Kelsang, friends of the late Avatar Kuruk who have been charged with finding and protecting his successor, have instead misidentified the Avatar, lifting up a man named Yun even though Kyoshi is right under their noses.

This fascinating twist marks a first for the franchise, since both Aang and his successor Korra were identified as the Avatar at an early age and grew up knowing they were meant for greatness. Kyoshi, by contrast, begins as a mere serving girl in the household of the exalted “Avatar Yun.” An orphan since childhood, Kyoshi is used to being reviled by ordinary townspeople. The combination of her potentially earth-shattering powers and her xenophobic reception among average people may remind some readers of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Though when we first meet Kyoshi, her self-esteem is so low she can barely earthbend at all.

“Since the earliest days of Avatar, we’ve always been pitched ideas of a fake Avatar. It seems like a natural thing for writers to glom onto,” DiMartino tells EW. “We never really resonated with that idea, there was never an angle we could figure out that made sense. But the way F.C. did it, it makes sense in this volatile period between Avatars. He came up with a plausible reason they could’ve been misidentified. It’s a great start for Kyoshi specifically: The person who becomes one of the most powerful and legendary Avatars ever starting out where people don’t believe she is and she has to go rogue to learn how to become the Avatar.”

He continues: “It’s a cool angle on the classic Avatar journey of mastering the four elements and having to find your masters and stuff, when she’s treated as an outcast in a way.”


The Rise of Kyoshi also fleshes out a key part of Kyoshi’s character that fans only learned of very recently. The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender that focused on Aang’s headstrong Water Tribe-born successor Avatar Korra, ended with Korra embracing her romantic feelings for her friend Asami. The final minutes of the show found its two female leads taking each other hand-in-hand before walking off into the sunset.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars trilogy of sequel graphic novels, written by DiMartino and illustrated by artist Irene Koh for Dark Horse Comics, further explored this relationship, as Korra and Asami struggled with coming out to friends and family. This is where Aang’s waterbending daughter Kya came in. Kya approached Korra and Asami during Turf Wars, explained that she also loved women, and gave the two young lovebirds a crash course in the state of LGBTQ affairs within the Avatar world. One of the most interesting tidbits was the revelation of Kyoshi’s bisexuality. Just as The Rise of Kyoshi explains how the Earth Kingdom Avatar learned to fight with fans while wearing kabuki makeup, it also explores her first experience of falling in love with another woman.

“In the back of our minds we always thought Kyoshi was probably bisexual,” DiMartino says. “For a YA novel, it just seems quite appropriate to have her explore her feelings toward men and women. In the Korra comic, it’s just a line; there wasn’t time to really get into it, so F.C. took that idea and came up with an awesome character Rangi and it’s great. It’s really the heart of the story, which I really like.”

Dark Horse

Dark Horse

Dark Horse

For a story that’s primarily about martial arts and elemental battles, Avatar has always had a knack for crafting compelling romances. But the blossoming relationship between Kyoshi and her firebending friend Rangi, who start out as co-workers in Yun’s mansion before being drawn together in a daring escape and learning to survive together on the run, also highlights the unique strengths of Yee’s novel. The Avatar shows and graphic novels can visualize the spectacle of bending, but The Rise of Kyoshi gets us into the characters’ heads to see how these elemental powers fuel personalities and relationships.

At one point, as Kyoshi and Rangi are fleeing from attackers, Yee writes, “[Rangi] ran as nimbly as they did on the roof tiles, and when there was a leap too great to make naturally, she stepped on jets of fire that blasted out of her feet, bounding in propulsive arcs across the sky. The sight made Kyoshi’s breath come to a standstill at the very time she needed it flowing. Rangi was so beautiful, illuminated by moon and fire, that it hurt. She was strength and skill and determination wrapped around an unshakable heart.”


Until now, Avatar has primarily been a visual story. Both the animated shows and the tie-in comics have used their formats to broadcast the show’s visceral combination of martial arts techniques with elemental powers. But in scenes like this, Yee finds a way to make the components of Avatar storytelling come alive on the page. Other characters, like Jianzhu, use interesting bending techniques that focus on small projectiles or minor manipulations that maybe wouldn’t pop on screen but come alive in the reader’s imagination.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge capturing the motion and kinetic energy of the series in word form,” Yee says. “If you were going to describe, word for word, everything that happens in a fight scene as complex as the ‘Day of Black Sun’ episode where everyone’s jumping around pillars created by the Dai Li, or the gang’s intrusion on the Earth King’s palace…I felt for me it would be impossible. So I actually drew on a concept from back when I practiced capoeira. For capoeira, when you see two people get into the circle and start moving and it seems like a very fluid thing, the mindset my teachers told me is you’re supposed to be having a dialogue. Rather than doing lots and lots of motions, you’re posing a question to the other person. Then they’re answering and posing one of their own, and you’re interacting that way. That call and response, set up and subversion, was probably better suited for the text form and my own capabilities, so I described fight scenes in that manner.”

The good news is, there’s more where this came from. Kyoshi’s aforementioned 230-year lifespan means there’s lots of room left for additional stories, and Yee is already brainstorming the follow-up novel. He teases, “She is definitely going to be challenged on an intensely personal level, which you might guess from the end of book 1, as well as on the political level, as she goes from the lowest rungs of society and most outcast to the highest levels of the world stage.”


That’s not even all that the future holds for the Avatar universe. DiMartino is currently writing a new trilogy of Legend of Korra graphic novels, this one titled Ruins of the Empire and illustrated by artist Michelle Wong, that explores the fate of the villainous Kuvira; part one is available now. A new trilogy of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics is also currently underway, written by Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City) and illustrated by Peter Wartman with consultation from DiMartino.

Most interestingly of all, DiMartino and Konietzko are hard at work developing a live-action series version of Avatar: The Last Airbender for Netflix. Not much is known about the project, and it’s still early enough that DiMartino couldn’t speak much about it. But with that on the horizon and The Rise of Kyoshi in bookstores this week, it’s clear that Avatar has become one of the richest and most rewarding fictional universes of 21st-century pop culture.

“It’s pretty crazy,” DiMartino says. “It’s just wild that we created it in 2002, and we’re still working on it. It never went away, even when we weren’t working on the show, because I was working on the book or comics. It’s always been part of my life. But this does feel new. The people who grew up with the show are now older and actually working on the shows, comics, and books, and there’s still the next generation discovering it. That was one of our goals originally: To tell a timeless story that could last generations.”


From ComicBook:

Here's Why Avatar: Rise of the Kyoshi Was Made

The adventures of Aang, the Last Airbender, ended years ago in both the original Avatar The Last Airbender series and its sequel, the Legend of Korra, which followed the future incarnation of Aang as she attempted to struggle with her powers and heritage in a much different, futuristic world. While these chapters may be closed in animated format, the world of the Last Airbender is being returned to through various mediums. With sequel series for both franchises being developed in comic book form, a new prose novel dives into a little known avatar, Kyoshi.

The Entertainment Weekly article that chats with the novel's author, and dissects the character of Kyoshi, explores what the story will follow in terms of Kyoshi and the world around her:

How 'The Rise of Kyoshi' finds new things to love about 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'

'The Rise of Kyoshi' author F.C. Yee and 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' co-creator Michael DiMartino explain how the new YA novel builds on the franchise.

The author of the upcoming prose novel, F.C. Yee, dissected the reasoning behind why he wanted to revisit the older incarnation of the "Avatar":

“What was appealing to me was how with limited screen time, she was such an effective foil to Aang in the original series. They don’t spend that much time together, but it’s so interesting to watch them play off each other with their different approaches to problem-solving. That got me into thinking about what could be filled in. What kind of experiences would she have had to go through in order to arrive at the woman we see as an adult, who briefly appears and advises Aang, and owns up to slaying a conqueror, and doesn’t take any BS from anyone? She must have seen some pretty intense stuff to give her that edge.”

Kyoshi had several differences from both Aang and Korra, wherein she originated from the Earth Kingdom and even lived to be over 200 years old. She appeared a few times in the Last Airbender series, offering advice to Aang in spirit form along with the other Avatars that still reside within both him and with Korra later on. If this novel proves to be a success, we're sure this won't be the last we see of this powerful Avatar.

Will you be picking up The Rise of Kyoshi? What was your favorite incarnation of the Avatar? Feel free to let us know in the comments or hit me up directly on Twitter @EVComedy to talk all things comics and anime!

For those of you unfamiliar with The Last Airbender, the series screened on Nickelodeon between 2005 and 2008. Its complex story and diverse stars earned the series’ acclaim. The Last Airbender’s story coupled with its anime-inspired artwork has helped it grow a loyal fanbase, and the series has continued to expand with various comics over the years. A new live action series is in the works for Netflix from the original creators of the Nickelodeon series.


From Polygon:

The Rise of Kyoshi author F.C. Yee on penning a new entry in the Avatar canon

Avatar Kyoshi finally gets a highly sought-out origin story

F.C. Yee’s novel The Rise of Kyoshi, the newest entry in the Avatar: The Last Airbender canon, tracks the legendary Avatar Kyoshi’s origin story. The story takes place more than 300 years before the timeline of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, and fleshes out not only its protagonists’ backstory, but also the history of the Avatar universe at large.

Tackling an Avatar story is no easy feat. One of the most worldbuilding-heavy ventures of the 21st century, the franchise’s canon runs deep: between two animated series (Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra) and a slew of graphic novels, comic books, and animated shorts, there’s a lot of history to reckon with. While previous Avatars, Kyoshi included, have appeared in both series to give their current incarnations counsel, little is known about their individual lives.

[Ed. note: Minor spoilers ahead for The Rise of Kyoshi.]

Kyoshi’s origin story is a bit unconventional: Abandoned by parents in the coastal Earth Kingdom city of Yokoya, she works as a servant at the Avatar’s estate under Jianzhu, an Earth Kingdom political mastermind, and Kelsang, an airbender, both former companions of Avatar Kuruk. However, no one knows that Kyoshi is the Avatar, and instead believes that an Earthbender named Yun is the spirit’s current reincarnation.

After Jianzhu (and Kyoshi) discover Kyoshi’s true identity, she flees with Rangi, a firebender sworn to protect the Avatar. Seeking out bending masters, Kyoshi falls in with the Flying Opera Company, a ragtag group of criminals with unique bending skills. Along the way, she learns more about her parents and picks up her characteristic look — battle clothes, fans, face paint, and all.

Polygon spoke with F.C. Yee, the author of The Rise of Kyoshi, about inserting a full novel’s worth of information into the greater Avatar canon, adapting a highly visual story for the page, and tackling a fan-favorite character’s origin story.

Polygon: What narrative constraints were you working with while writing The Rise of Kyoshi? More generally, was it somewhat daunting to pen an entry into the Avatar canon?

F.C. Yee: I would say that for a narrative constraints, definitely everything has to make sense within the existing universe. [Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creator] Mike Dimartino was a great help in establishing the balance and what made internal logical sense and where I could kind of push the boundaries of that. So with certain things like what bending can do, what it can’t do — those are things that I just worked well within a balance in the existing universe, obviously.

I’d also say precedents set by the shows themselves — drawing on source materials and drawing on the comics — are really important. They kind of sent us constraints that actually ended up being quite free in terms of where we can just take things creatively. For example, there’s this scene I originally had written and the Mike commented on the draft, “You’re not actually showing Kyoshi doing motion here. And we’ve established that she still needs to move in order to bend.” So I went back and rewrote it so that she’s doing a motion to support the actual actions. So that’s an example of the type of interaction where the owners of the IP really helped me out in finding out what those were.

In terms of what was daunting about dropping more canon into the universe: whatever I dropped in as canon had to had to have an internal logic. I was trying to make things happen conceivably within the world’s history.

In terms of the second part of your question about what was daunting about kind of dropping more canon into the universe: again, it was similar to the physical logistics of the timeline and lore and history as they’re established by the shows and comics. It was a very similar situation where whatever I dropped in as canon had to have an internal logic, which makes sense given the fact that it was all people to like, oh, we’ve seen in the existing content.

It was sort of trying to make it happen conceivably within the world’s history where over time there could be changes — some things could stay the same and things could plausibly end up where they are at the time of the show.

Given that Avatar previously has primarily existed within a visual medium between the graphic novels and the two shows, what were some of the challenges of adapting the series’ style into a novel format?

The visual nature of the show is something that I’ve actually called out at points where I’ve given talks about the story. It was a major challenge to try to get that sense of kinetic energy that the show has within the written page. There’s my personal theory: maybe a more skilled writer could have done the impossible on this and tried to describe every single move of every single thing. It would be difficult to get across to get that vibrancy and the show’s action across the page. So instead, I looked at more for moments that were more easy to capture in a novel format, in particular where the action suddenly turns on a dime. I draw on a few really good examples, one outside the Avatar universe and two within the Avatar universe.

I could try to capture everything that happens in the original show word for word during, let’s say, the part where Azula is chasing Aang throughout Omashu — I just love it because there’s just so much going on there. However, narratively what a novel can capture really well is the moment in the show where at the North Pole Zuko says to Katara, “Are you here for a rematch?” And that Katara, in this context — it’s night, they’re surrounded by water, Zuko’s really tired — goes, “Oh, trust me. it’s not going to be much of a rematch.” And she drops him in one shot that a novel can describe and can get to through the context because you can describe the events leading up to that. So,I would say I lean more toward that type of example provided by the show.

Outside of the show, the example I love to give is in Thor: Ragnarok. It wouldn’t be easy to novelize every blast or every time Thor swings his hammer. What are you going to say? “Thor swings his hammer.” But the perfect novelization moment is that part where Hela asks Thor like, “What are you the god of again?” And then he just glows with lightning and the biggest lightning bolt in the history of lightning bolts hits. That’s the type of thing that I felt like I could capture in text. So I’ve tried to include as many of those and describe the action in terms of those pivot moments rather than every punch and jab that’s thrown.

I love your initial conceit of Kyoshi being a hidden Avatar. What was your general approach to taking on Kyoshi, particularly given that she’s such a larger-than-life figure within the Avatar universe?

My approach was, in some ways, set out by that original conceit. There’s an essence of, like, “What if everything just goes wrong?” As far as what we know, it’s Avatar, and like the examples that we’ve seen of an Avatar journey. What happens if everything just goes awry and not the way anyone in the entire universe expects? It’d be a hell of a challenge and something that would be really interesting to see. It really meshed with the way I interpreted Kyoshi. We see her in [Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra] with a larger-than-life personality, but what exactly could have brought her to become that type of person? That seemed to mesh with the whole concept of things being pretty dire for her and her early Avatarhood on both a personal and political level.

It really meshed really with the way I interpreted Kyoshi — though we see her in the shows given her larger than life personality, what exactly could have brought her to become that type of person and that seemed to mesh with that whole concept of things being pretty dire for her and her early Avatarhood on both a personal and political level.

I think that I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’ve tried to make it feel like a little bit almost like history. And if you read, if you dive deep in history during crisis times you get the sense of, “Oh my God, how did people pull through to get to where we are?” That type of on the edge desperation is something that I tried to capture in the book and hopefully it leads to those internalized skills where people can go through that, see Kyoshi’s struggles and realize that that makes sense of why she is what we see her as an adult.

I was rereading the end of the novel today and there’s a bit towards the end where she’s talking about invoking some Jianzhu’s trademark attitude. She wasn’t necessarily a fan of it but it got the job done. That felt to me like a nod to the persona we know her as today.

That was intentional. It’s that part where she’s like, “Well, do it because I said so.” It’s all weird, because that’s not who she starts out as at the beginning of the book. But the narrative arc, hopefully if done right, captured her change into that.

It’s the same thing as in Escape from the Spirit World, those shorts Nickelodeon released where Kyoshi goes to the Earth King thing and he says, “Crush this peasant rebellion.” She goes, “No like, you know, why? Cause I said so.” If she was just like that throughout the entire book, it wouldn’t be interesting narratively and also would be very unsympathetic.

The novel features one of the most unorthodox “Team Avatars” that we’ve ever gotten to see. How and why did you want the Flying Opera Company to stand out from previous Team Avatars?

I wanted to really capture the feeling of old-school Hong Kong martial arts movies or wuxia movies where you have bandits living outside the law. Some of them are heroic, some of them are not. They obviously live by their own code. Sometimes they’re just criminals and have these covers related to opera and performance — the Beijing Royal Opera today is that physically talented.

I thought it would be cool to capture that — that’s where the inspiration of how they’re able to run across rooftops and across empty spaces came from. It’s very similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where you see people lighter than air doing those flying motions. I tried to link that to thematically altogether. I also thought it would just be really funny to have a Team Avatar where Kyoshi is like, worth dirt to them. They’re like, “What are you to us?” It just seemed like an interesting way to go about it.

It was also kind of funny. I was thinking about the concept, and I liked the idea of how Kyoshi is so upset and focused on justice. Who would be the worst people for her to hang out with, that she’d have to overcome? Yeah, filthy criminals. And then the circumstances of why she would do that, and one thing just led to another. So basically it was for both the potential cool moments but also for the potential conflict.

We’ve known since the first Legend of Korra graphic novel that Kyoshi was queer. What were your motivations in giving that part of her character significant weight through her relationship with Rangi?

Well, I definitely wanted to make sure that that played a prominent part in her relationships because the representation is just so important. It’s something that I take seriously, but also that the YA author community also takes very seriously. It was canon in Legend of Korra so it was definitely going to be canon here, and I definitely didn’t want to strip her queerness out. Definitely, folks who know what the canon is from Korra are going to be looking for it, and other readers might be learning for the first time that a Kyoshi is bisexual in this novel. It felt really important for me to include that and essentially do her relationships justice.

The relationship with Rangi was just really fun to write in general, because it’s fun to write to the interactions between, you know, bossy hotheads versus kind of more passive, cooler characters and see how they just feed off each other. So it was a delight to write.

The Avatar story speaks to a wide swathe of people at this point. Obviously this is a YA novel, but how did you hope to speak to the kind of now multigenerational Avatar fandom or to people who aren’t even Avatar fans at all?

In a way, I guess I hope to try to broaden the appeal by going specific. I think this particular strategy was just trying to write something that could be a standalone novel so that folks who had varying levels of familiarity with the Avatar universe and who may have encountered it at different times or at different points in their lives could still enjoy it.

In a way it was easier because of how old Kyoshi is and how old the story is. Therefore, there are stakes of what could of happened within this timeframe and the fact that a lot of things could have changed in order to lead up to what we see later in the Avatar universe.

In trying to appeal to fans who have been watching and enjoying this for a long time as well as folks who are newly arriving in the Avatar universe, I felt like the best approach was just to make sure that Kyoshi’s arc and the events that she went through or could be understood within the context of these single series.

The Rise of Kyoshi is out now.


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