Avatar, The Last Airbender had always been, in my opinion, one of the pinnacles of writing for all ages. It was a story originally made for children but carried a deeper message that could apply to anyone. But what felt critical to its success was the focus on fully realized characters that all contribute to the story in a meaningful way. The Shadow of Kyoshi attempts to do this and, with some success, creates a simple yet engaging story.
Kyoshi is the Avatar and the main perspective throughout the story. Like Aang and Korra, it’s a difficult journey for her to understand exactly being the Avatar entails. In that respect the story covers some already explored ideas of identity and purpose that we saw in The Legend of Korra series. There’s a lot of similarity between Kyoshi and Korra. Both are aggressive, imposing and don’t back down when cornered. But whereas Korra was arrogant, Kyoshi constantly doubts herself as Aang did. Avatar Kyoshi is a strong force of nature when she needs to be but has a softer side of the character that makes her more relatable. She’s trying to do her best but clearly doesn’t know what is right. It’s something anyone can understand and is vital to her character arc as she struggles with what kind of Avatar Kuruk was. It’s a combination of character traits that serve the characterization of Kyoshi quite well.
While Kyoshi is fantastic, the overall cast is comparatively lacking. The main antagonist felt like lost potential as I would have loved to see more of his perspective. His story was fascinating and delves into a part of the Avatar universe that wasn’t really explored in the animated series (I haven’t read all of the comics yet so I can’t confirm there). Rangi felt a bit one dimensional. Considering the story primarily takes place in the Fire Nation, I expected her to be more than an exposition character. The rest of the cast is serviceable but it felt that all of the attention was focused on Kyoshi’s arc while the others are just there.
The Shadow of Kyoshi is a fast-paced story that felt like not much actually happened. Comparing it to The Rise of Kyoshi the story felt far more condensed and focused but not necessarily to its benefit. A lot of pages are dedicated to fleshing out each and every event as they happened. It makes the scenes livelier and more exciting. But stepping back and looking over the timeline of events, it felt as though the story happened very quickly.
The story itself did not have as much complexity as The Rise of Kyoshi. The plot started off intriguing and full of mystery, but slowly became more straight forward and predictable. For a story that advertised itself as having “a dangerous game of court politics,” it doesn’t spend a lot of time showing us what Fire Nation political life is like. It felt like a very surface level look at politics, trying to appear like a game of chess but really looking like a game of checkers.
Avatar has always been a universe with awe-inspiring world-building, but it doesn’t appear that way in The Shadow of Kyoshi. We do learn a fair bit about the Fire Nation culture, how it’s political structure works and just how important honour is to every day life. It matches what we know about the Fire Nation through Zuko’s honour obsession in The Last Airbender. However it felt like this was the only concept explored The Rise of Kyoshi. There was a very real potential to explore more about the Spirit World, the creatures residing there and how they view and interact with humanity. The Avatar is the bridge between worlds and for a story focused on a spiritual threat, very little of the story actually focused on the Spirit World.
The Shadow of Kyoshi is very well written and is easy to pick up for anyone looking for a fun action story. It was a delight to keep reading as the word choice and flow from paragraph to paragraph lent itself to continuous non-stop reading. The hooks between chapters, while not as enticing as they could be, closed off each chapter in a thoughtful way like a complete idea.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
I really enjoyed Kyoshi’s journey in The Rise of Kyoshi. The main reason is that she is constantly trying and learning from her mistakes. She makes mistakes which is something that lends itself to better character development. Mistakes allow for introspection, thoughtful conversation and consequences. While I wish the consequences for Kyoshi’s mistakes were a bit more realized, the fact that she makes mistakes and learns from them makes her more engaging as a character.