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Literature / The Rise of Kyoshi

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"What you do when no one is guiding you determines who you are."

"There is always one who stands above you in judgment."
Avatar Kyoshi

The Rise of Kyoshi is the first novel in a two-part series written by F. C. Yee chronicling the life of Avatar Kyoshi, taking place 412 years prior to the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series largely follows Kyoshi through her teenage and young adult years, mapping her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice still feared and admired centuries after her death, as well as touching upon her romantic interest in multiple genders.

Seven years after the untimely death of Avatar Kuruk, his friends and allies look throughout the Earth Kingdom in the hopes of discovering the new Avatar, master of all four elements. But despite everything, their search comes up empty handed, time and time again.

Until they discover a child they begin to suspect is the new Avatar.

Yes, that's right. Everyone, meet Avatar Yun.

In the meantime, simple servant girl Kyoshi watches on as Yun struggles to become the new Avatar, vowing to help him in any way she can.

Then things get real.

A sequel entitled The Shadow of Kyoshi was released on July 21, 2020. It jumps ahead two years in time to a more confident Kyoshi getting dragged into an internal conflict in the Fire Nation.

The series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artifact Title: The book bears the logo of its parent franchise, despite being set at a point where there is more than one airbender; Aang doesn't appear either.
  • Back from the Dead: Mistaken Avatar Yun in the final battle, although it is eventually subverted via Never Found the Body.
  • Battle Ballgown: Before the Avatar's party leaves to confront the Fifth Nation pirate fleet Kyoshi is given a fancy servant dress lined with chainmail to stop assassins. They aren't taking any chances when it comes to the vicious pirate Takaga. She later takes the dress with her after she leaves Jianzhu's estate, reasoning that despite its source she'll need every advantage she can take against the man, which will later on become part of her Iconic Outfit.
  • The Big Bad Shuffle: The heroes go through several major antagonists throughout the book. The first major threat is Tagaka and her Fifth Nation pirate band. Although it takes some effort, they're defeated within the first hundred pages. After that point, Jianzhu becomes the main villain when he murders/gets two important people in Kyoshi's life killed in rapid succession. However, he's more of a Greater-Scope Villain for most of the book as Kyoshi is on the lam trying to avoid his attention while simultaneously preparing herself for revenge. During that time, Kyoshi finds herself at odds with a daofei gang leader named Mok, ends up targeting a corrupt governor named Te, and butts heads with Xu Ping An, who turns out to have not died at Zhulu Pass and tries to resurrect his Yellow Neck movement before Kyoshi quickly puts a stop to it. It's only toward the end that Kyoshi is able to confront Jianzhu at last.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: The amount of gore in the novel far exceeds that in any other entry in the franchise, with graphic descriptions of broken bones and impalement, along with plenty of blood.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Lao Ge has some... odd ideas on how the Avatar (and authority figures in general) should act. He also admonishes her for choosing to duel a man, rather than murdering him when he least expects it, because "that is not the way of the predator".
  • Bodyguard Crush: Aside from Kyoshi and Rangi, the novel reveals that Kuruk had one of these on Hei-Ran, going as far as to write a poem/song for her. But Kuruk never acted on it, and decided he was happy that Hei-Ran found someone else.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: Justified. Whilst Kyoshi is the Avatar, and therefore the strongest bender in the world, she isn't much of a fighter at the start of the series. For this reason, Rangi, a seasoned firebender, dedicates herself to defending her.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Lao Ge tells Kyoshi that Yangchen had a habit of reading the works of Shoken, a monk deemed heretical. She also studied his opponents as well in order to understand multiple viewpoints.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Earth sages try to claim that Kyoshi is a usurper. This is after she went into the Avatar state several times. Fortunately, she opts for heading to the Air Temple rather than smashing them up.
  • Burn Scars, Burning Powers: Kyoshi, being the Avatar, can control all four elements. That didn't stop her from getting badly burnt on her hands, leading to her constantly wearing gloves.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Quite a few. Among the more subtle ones, Avatar Kuruk's one serious decree was "that his closest companions find the next Avatar and do right by them," evoking Aang's request that the White Lotus (including his wife and best friend) protect the next Avatar.
    • After seeing the Kang Shen sect of the Autumn Bloom and learning that they believe that they can become immune to the elements by practicing purification rituals Lek says that they are nonbenders who were traumatized after seeing a loved one die by bending and mentions that people will sometimes go to any lengths to never feel that powerless around benders. This is clearly meant to invoke the Equalists ideology against benders.
    • Kyoshi killing Xu Ping An having no real impact as an Avatar's justice, but rather a kill between two rival gang leaders is a parallel to what Iroh thought him deposing Ozai would've been: brother killing brother for the throne; hence why Zuko had to take up the throne in the series.
    • The climax of the book takes place in Qinchao, the town next over from Yokoya. Qinchao is populated by people from the Chin clan, alluding to Chin the Conqueror whose power play for the Earth Kingdom was stopped by Kyoshi herself, in the same event in which she split Yokoya from the mainland to become what would later be called Kyoshi Island.
    • Chamberlain Hui convincing Lu Beifong to deny a loan Jianzhu applied for in the Southern Water Tribe's stead resulted in the Southern Tribe's relative lack of development compared to their Northern counterparts, especially in the area of an effective naval force. The rippling effect of this would be felt over three centuries later during the Hundred Years' War, because the lack of a defensive fleet is what contributed to the Fire Navy successfully raiding the Southern Tribe (which resulted in Hama's capture and, more pertinent to the show, the death of Sokka's and Katara's mother).
    • Kyoshi instinctively waterbending when Kirima throws water at her somewhat invokes Aang's son Bumi airbending when his nephew throws a plate at him in Season 3 of Legend of Korra.
  • Came Back Wrong: The false Avatar, Yun. He looks the same as always, but radiates an air of pure wrongness that makes everyone scramble away from him in fear. He also went from a kind-hearted man to a cold-blooded killer who nearly massacres everyone in a building for no good reason.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A brutal one. The reason the Flying Opera Company incurred a debt to the Autumn Bloom and accepted them as their elders was because Lek needed medical treatment after being stung by a buzzard wasp and nearly dying. This same sensitivity comes back when Jianzhu kidnaps Rangi and darts her, Kyoshi, and Lek with shirshu venom. Rangi and Kyoshi are merely paralyzed, while Lek has an allergic reaction and dies.
  • Combat Hand Fan: Kyoshi's weapons, which she got from her mother. Wong knows how to use them, and teaches her how. She finds them particularly useful when training, as they let her bend more elegantly than her usual Unskilled, but Strong style.
  • Corrupt Politician:
    • Hui. As Jianzhu puts it, Hui is a small-minded man occupied with vetoing everything Jianzhu put forward even if the gains would be beneficial for both parties. Unfortunately, he has the ear of Lu Beifong (Toph's ancestor), who listens to anything Hui says since Lu can't think or administrate clearly after the loss of his wife.
    • Hui is hardly unique. The Earth Kingdom is even more corrupt than usual, with bribes being a common cost of doing business. Many government officials tried to control the Avatar themselves in order to mold him into a pawn for their own ends. Jianzhu never seems to notice that he himself is one of those people, and in fairness he is genuinely trying to improve the Earth Kingdom and the world—he just thinks he is the only one who can guide the Avatar correctly, and therefore any crime is justified to get her under his control.
  • Criminal Found Family: The various daofei (organized outlaw gangs) serve as a form of this, with the Flying Opera Company (founded by Avatar Kyoshi's parents) being the most prominent example. Their code binds them together as a family, and violations of its tenets are dealt with very harshly.
    "I shall swear these oaths. I swear to defend my brothers and sisters, and obey the commands of my elders. Their kin will be my kin, their blood my blood. Should I fail to uphold this vow, may I be hacked to death by many knives."
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Rangi and Yun mention an Avatar named Salai who is apparently well-regarded, but we otherwise know nothing about them. Early fan speculation assumed Salai was the Fire Nation Avatar before Yangchen, but The Shadow of Kyoshi names him Szeto and gives an overview of his career, while Salai remains a mystery.
  • Darker and Edgier: Easily one of the darkest entries in the franchise. While Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra had some adult concepts, they would try to alleviate the mood through jokes and sight gags, and never showed blood to keep it kid friendly. This book, on the other hand, has graphic descriptions of blood and violence, with very little humor to speak of. Real-life naughty words (specifically “bastard” and “dung”) are also used while both of the shows usually resorted to Pardon My Klingon.
  • Deconstruction:
    • F.C. Yee purposefully set out to deconstruct the process of finding the next Avatar, and explores what happens when things go awry:
      • Whenever a figure of authority dies unexpectedly, without a contingency plan in case of any delay in finding their replacement (Jianzhu at one point muses that it's the first time in the history of the Avatar Cycle that the new Avatar has gone undiscovered for so long), chaos will inevitably ensue. This is what happens after Kuruk's death, especially since he died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-three and obviously the reincarnation of him is going to take a while to find, raise to adulthood, and train. There's just no one to fill the hole he leaves in his wake, so the Fifth Nation pirates grow bolder and Jianzhu takes it upon himself to fix the power vacuum. The power consequently goes to Jianzhu's head and he starts going off the deep end.
      • Finding the Avatar as a child should be fairly simple with the Air Nomad method, right? You're just trying to find a kid who's drawn to all four of the toys picked out by the Avatar's past lives. Jianzhu and Kelsang find out that this isn't the case when looking for the Earth Kingdom kid; the Earth Kingdom is the largest and most populous of the Four Nations, so having every seven year old in every village play with the toys takes a lot of time. Also, in the world outside the humble and theocratic Air Nomad culture, young children like toys and don't like for them to be taken away when they get to play with them, and parents don't take too kindly to being told their kids aren't the savior of the world.
      • In addition, the reason they're using the Air Nomad method is because the Earth Kingdom one failed. Due to how large and populated it is, the Earth Kingdom uses geomantic rituals to pinpoint the location of the new Avatar right down to their doorstep. But these rituals prove useless if the new Avatar has a lifestyle that prevents them from staying in one place for too long, as Kyoshi and her daofei parents did.
    • The story has a very depressing deconstruction of Give Him a Normal Life. Kyoshi's parents left her in the care of a villager in Yokoya Port, with a chest full of resources that she could use when she grew older, or simply keep to remember them by. As Lek later suggests, they might have thought their daughter would have a better (and longer) life amongst law-abiding folk...except that the villager immediately reneged on the deal once they left, and threw Kyoshi out into the streets. She was forced to live off garbage scraps to survive as no one wanted an extra mouth to feed, or to take responsibility for the daughter of criminals. Understandably Kyoshi loathes her parents for (as she sees it) abandoning her; far from wanting to find them again, her first reaction when she hears they're dead is relief and satisfaction.
    • The Bloodier and Gorier aspect of getting hit by bending attacks is essentially what would realistically happen; people getting hit by pillars of stone as big as them at high speed warrants shattered bones at minimum, not Amusing Injuries/Bloodless Carnage, unlike the animated shows. This would be carried over to The Shadow of Kyoshi.
    • In an attempt to capture Kyoshi, Jianzhu shoots her, Rangi and Lek with shirshu-spit darts to paralyse them for up to an hour, while he abducts Rangi. Rather than One Dose Fits All (and much like certain real life victims of insect bites or stings) Lek has an allergic reaction to the toxin and dies while Kyoshi is powerless to help.
  • De-power: Downplayed. Jesa revoked the pacifist and peaceful ways of the Air Nomads, which resulted in her Airbending weakening. The others say the problem was that she never resolved the spiritual conflict within herself; centuries later, Zaheer was able to put Airbending to far worse uses because he was completely sure of himself.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • In general, Jianzhu's biggest failure in the book is the mistaken assumption that Kyoshi has no allies besides Rangi. He had no way of knowing that she was the daughter of two famous daofei, who left behind a journal detailing how she could call on their resources. Kyoshi is, therefore, able to sidestep the entire world where Jianzhu has spent his life gaining power and connections.
    • Kyoshi agrees to free a man who has been held captive for almost ten years, only to discover the captive is Xu Ping An, the infamous leader of the Yellow Necks.
    • Near the end of the book, Jianzhu gets a dose of this when Hui arrives with everyone he could bribe to take away Jianzhu's right to teach and guard the Avatar. Even Jianzhu has to admit that he underestimated how efficient Hui could be. He did expect this play eventually, though, and was relying on Hui lining up all of Jianzhu's enemies. Jianzhu poisons everyone and blames it on daofei, but is unhappy that a number of his own servants were caught in the crossfire.
    • In the middle of an Earthbending wrestling match, Jianzhu and Kyoshi are shocked when Yun walks through the door. He kills Jianzhu and leaves before Kyoshi has any idea what's happening.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Once Jianzhu kills Kelsang, Jianzhu keeps making more mistakes and then making more mistakes to fix those mistakes. Not only does killing Kelsang and sacrificing Yun alienate him completely from the true Avatar, other nobles begin to threaten action against him, which leads to him concocting a poison that almost kills everyone there save for himself and Hei-Ran. The novel takes pains to show us that Jianzhu, though guilty, is not happy by any stretch of what he's done. By the time Kyoshi catches up to him (after he's kidnapped Rangi and accidentally killed Lek, which has only increased her hatred for him) it's clear that the stress and the pain of his deeds have caught up to him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Jianzhu tries to force Yun to access firebending by cutting off his connection to the earth by making him walk on spikes. Later, he tries hiding his foot bandages from Kyoshi and gets very agitated when she almost finds out. This is played very similarly to an abused child trying to hide their injuries.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Jianzhu. Kyoshi is too scared of his power at first and thus spends the first novel running from him. In-Universe, Jianzhu is known as the Gravedigger, and earned his reputation by defeating the Yellow Necks by Earthbending five thousand of them underground.
    • Tagaka is a pirate queen and a master waterbender who seeks to control the seas with brute force and intimidation.
    • Mok is a non-bender who acts like a traditional mafia boss: someone you don't want to owe a debt to. Turns out he's just aping his big brother Xu Ping An, who is far more dangerous.
    • Kelsang and Hei-Ran are also shown to have fearsome reputations. Tagaka's pirates have been scared of Kelsang for years due to his sinking an entire generation of their ships, while Hei-Ran holds the record at her school for the highest number of (officially) accidental kills in an Agni Kai.
  • Elemental Powers: Well, duh. It is an Avatar novel after all.
  • Faux Affably Evil: If you didn't know his reputation, you'd swear Xu Ping An was a stand-up guy. He's polite to those who do good by him, and willing to repay a debt to you in kind, so long as that respect is upheld. Kyoshi quickly identifies him as the type of person will calmly murder an invited guest. He honestly believes that he is the only important person in the world, and thus he can do anything he wants to anyone else.
  • Final Boss Preview: Kyoshi's first "fight" with Jianzhu in Chapter 10 The Spirit consists of her desperately trying to take him down with her Unskilled, but Strong earthbending only for him to effortlessly cancel out most of her attacks while calmly walking down to her. The encounter shows just how unprepared and untrained Kyoshi really is at this point and how far she will need to go in order to have any chance of killing Jianzhu.
  • Force and Finesse: While working with the Flying Opera Company, Kyoshi is the Force to everyone else's Finesse. Kyoshi is Unskilled, but Strong, unable to bend any element smaller than say half her own height, but can move gargantuan objects with relative ease. The Flying Opera Company are average benders in terms of power, but their talent and skill lie in manipulating small objects with perfection. Lao Ge describes her as "a hammer among scalples."
  • Foregone Conclusion: That Kyoshi is the Avatar. Though much of the story is about how people react to this revelation, especially the people who incorrectly identified a different Avatar and said false Avatar himself.
  • Foreshadowing: When Kyoshi wakes up after the battle with the Fifth Nation, Jianzhu is sitting beside her bed. She wonders if he's going to bring the house down on her before she remembers that he's surrounded by wood and can't bend. Their final confrontation has them fighting in a restaurant with him trying to bend the stone building down on everyone while she tries to keep it up.
  • Freudian Excuse: Heroic example. In Avatar the Last Airbender, it was established that Kyoshi was relatively ruthless for an Avatar. She considered letting a stubborn dictator die equivalent to murdering him while creating an island to protect her people, and founded the Dai Li, who became antagonists towards Aang and Korra, to maintain stability in Ba Sing Se. When you grow up in the middle of a power struggle, with your supposed teacher murdering your best friend and your guardian, following a life of being on the lam and wanting to avenge your loved ones, it's more understandable that you take extreme means to protect the ones you love and prevent chaos. Kyoshi even said as much when giving Aang advice, telling him that he needs to be decisive in a time of political uncertainty so he can learn from her experiences before life makes him bitter.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Kyoshi forcefully deposing Xu Ping An is seen as this. Ping was secretly taken as prisoner to be used as leverage against Jianzhu, but to the rest of the world he was already dead. Since Kyoshi killed him in a duel that would be considered legitimate in the daofei code, it's seen as a gang leader just deposing another gang leader by force rather than the Avatar delivering justice. And since the daofei code also considers revealing the identity of daofei to "abiders" forbidden, none of the event's witnesses would tell an outsider what happened, meaning that for all intents and purposes, Jianzhu is considered by the public at large the person who killed him during the Yellow Neck rebellion.
  • Honor Before Reason: A person's honor and pride are of the utmost importance to anyone from the Fire Nation. A lot of people from other nations got fed up with hearing about it so much. This is the central conflict between Kyoshi and Rangi throughout the book, as Rangi does not appreciate the Avatar associating with criminals.
  • Hotter and Sexier: There are a few scenes (especially in the final third of the book) that are a bit more explicit than anything in the franchise.
    • One of Tagaka’s men hits on Kyoshi in a very explicit way. He says her mother (that he didn’t know was her mother) would never show him where her viper tattoos ended and wants to know if she will.
    • When Kyoshi and Rangi kiss for the first time, it cuts to them waking up together, though it's not confirmed if they "slept" together.
    • There's another scene between the two a bit later where they're training together that's pretty erotic for a YA novel. Rangi climbs all over her and they kiss between poses.
    • Kirima implies that she had a one night stand with a firebender. She says she kicked him out of her bed with both feet when he talked about his honor too much.
  • Impact Silhouette: Incredibly rare justified version. Kyoshi is an earthbender, so when she impacts a stone wall, it moves aside to accommodate her.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Kirima scolds Kyoshi and Rangi for romance within the same daofei brotherhood, because screwing the crew doesn't end well. It's advice rather than law, though.
  • Irony:
    • It turns out that Kyoshi was an enforcer of order during her time after a life of being on the run as a bandit and uncontrolled Avatar. She founded the Dai Li to establish this order, who would later prove as formidable foes to later Avatars.
    • Yokoya Port — whose inhabitants mistreated and looked down on Kyoshi — will one day be part of Kyoshi Island, whose people revere her as their saviour.
  • Insane Troll Logic: At the end, some of the Earth sages call Kyoshi an usurper who "stole" Yun's place as the Avatar even though she was born as such. Thankfully Kyoshi had the foresight to go to the Air Temple rather than stay in the Earth Kingdom; the monks simply ignore the Earth sages.
  • Karmic Death: All of Jianzhu's misdeeds throughout the book contribute to his death in the final confrontation. He's weakened by his own poison used to kill the Earth sages. He's held in place by Kyoshi, who had to watch him kill her father figure and best friend. He's actually killed by Yun, who he abandoned and left to die at the hands of a spirit. And finally, what kills him is the bullet that belonged to Lek, Jianzhu's final victim.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: Kyoshi's battle outfit consists of a long green dress, makeup, a headdress, and fans. The dress was designed to be easy to fight in complete with chainmail, the makeup hides her identity, and the fans are steel warfans.
  • Magnetic Hero: A notable trait for both Kuruk and Yun, and a big reason why Yun was mistaken for the Avatar — they were both good-natured, happy-go-lucky people with a strong sense of justice who drew people to them like moths to a flame, and excellent Pai Sho players to boot. Then it turns out Kuruk's actual reincarnation is a Born Unlucky stoic and serious young woman who can be hard to get along with and cares nothing for Pai Sho.
  • Man on Fire: Much like Aang, Kyoshi has a few, uh, less desirable fire-related learning situations.
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: Very important to the world of bending, as Rangi takes a great deal of pride in her bending lineage and her family have been excellent firebending teachers for generations. That Kirima, Lek, and Wong have "no bending lineages to speak of" when they train Kyoshi irks her.
    • Hei-Ran > Rangi > Kyoshi
    • Lu Beifong > Jianzhu > Yun (& Kuruk)
  • Master of Your Domain: Tieguai the Immortal extended his lifespan thus:
    "With the right mental focus, you could take an inventory of your own body and place each little piece that's not where it should be back into the correct order."
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Kelsang is murdered by Jianzhu for trying to keep Kyoshi away from him.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Kyoshi improvises a song in the moment while everyone else is having fun doing the same. Kelsang, however, notes that Kyoshi is singing the very same song Kuruk wrote for Hei-Ran, word for word. Kelsang and Kuruk were the only people who knew that song, and to hear Kyoshi recite it verbatim clues Kelsang in that Kyoshi may be the Avatar.
  • Missed the Call: Anybody with a passing knowledge of Avatar (or who just read the title of the book) will know from the start that it's poor serving girl Kyoshi who turns out to be the Avatar, not Yun. That said, Yun is no Fake Ultimate Hero — he genuinely believes he's the Avatar, and constantly studies and trains hard to fulfill his Avatar duties. Finding out it was never him — well, he doesn't take it well.
  • Mythology Gag: There are several sly references made to other parts of the franchise, some surprisingly obscure.
    • Early on in the novel, when Kyoshi is walking through the mansion, there's a mention of a merchant talking to someone about the future of cabbages. Cabbage man will have a lot to worry about in about two more Avatar cycles.
    • Jianzhu’s mentor/Earthbending teacher is a man by the man of Lu Beifong, presumably an ancestor of Toph’s. This just goes to show how rich and powerful Toph's family was even then.
    • Hidden passage. Through the mountains.
    • Guru Laghima is brought up more than once.
    • Jianzhu is disparaged for being a member of the Gan Jin tribe. One of the sages that Chamberlain Hui rallies to oppose him is from the Zhang tribe, and Jianzhu notes that no Zhang would ever pass up the chance to one-up a Ganjinese.
    • Kirima snarkily addresses Rangi as "hotwoman," showing that contemporary Waterbenders didn't think much of Aang's Fire Nation slang, either.
    • Kelsang hails from the Southern Air Temple, just like Aang.
    • Hei-Ran is the former Headmistress of the Royal Fire Nation Academy for Girls, the same school Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee attended.
    • Rangi says she has studied theoretical strategies for conquering Ba Sing Se, but she pities the soldiers who would have to implement them. Uncle Iroh attempted to conquer Ba Sing Se 300+ years later and the experience traumatized him into a Heel–Face Turn.
    • Rangi also references Yu Dao, the future site of the first Fire Nation colony in the Earth Kingdom.
    • Much ado is made of the fact that not only are people from the Fire Nation very concerned with their honor, but Kyoshi and Jianzhu both observe that the way they wear their hair serves as a symbolic visual of such, with Jianzhu treating Hei-Ran undoing her topknot and throwing her hairpin away in frustration as a serious sign that she feels her honor has been compromised. Kyoshi recalls being told that losers of important Agni Kai matches often shave their head around their topknots to symbolize extra humility in defeat. All of this serves to belatedly explain and inform Zuko, Iroh, and even Azula's treatment of their hair in the original series.
    • Yun is from Makapu, the same town as Aunt Wu.
    • Jianzhu uses shirshu-spit darts to incapacitate powerful foes, like beetle-headed merchants subduing Appa and the Red Lotus kidnapping Korra. Unlike these examples, however, one of Jianzhu's victims suffers from an allergic reaction and dies before the toxin wears off.
    • Jianzhu and Kyoshi have their final showdown in a town near Yokoya called Qinchao, home of the Chin clan. They have a lot of unique holidays involving effigies, and they blame Kyoshi for the collapse of the teahouse during her duel with Jianzhu. In reality, Kyoshi was trying to hold it up and it was Yun who brought it down. She snarks to herself that it's not likely she'll be bothering the Chins again... but c'mon. We all know this is the family of Chin the Conqueror.
    • Here's one that's pretty obscure: In "Return to Omashu", Sokka, Aang, and Katara orchestrate the people's escape by claiming they're all infected with a disease called "pentapox," which a bunch of people wonder if they've heard of, even though the kids made it up. Here, Jianzhu is described as having a body count higher than septapox.
  • Murder by Inaction: Jianzhu chooses to save Kyoshi rather than Yun who gets dragged off to his death by a spirit.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Xu Ping An is likely based on Hong Xiuquan, a 19th century Chinese revolutionary who led the brutal Taiping Rebellion. Xu thinking of himself as the greatest person in the world parallels Hong, who genuinely believed himself to be divine.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Jianzhu briefly considers leaving both Hui and the Earth King on a deserted island and waiting to see which idiot eats the other first.
  • Notorious Parent: Kyoshi's parents were the joint heads of group of daofei, or bandits. Most notably, her mother was an Air Nomad who fell in love with an Earth Kingdom daofei and abandoned her Nomad ways to live a life of crime, even going so far as to ink vipers over her Airbending tattoos.
  • Not So Stoic: Jianzhu is usually completely unflappable, but when Kelsang tells him he is unfit to teach the Avatar, Jianzhu completely loses it.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Fandom has long used phrases like "Spirits!" in place of "God!" This book canonizes that with phrases like "What in the name of the spirits?" and "Spirits protect...," but also adds a little more variety.
    • Jianzhu thinks "Holy Shu" at one point, presumably referencing one half of the namesake of Omashu, the first humans to learn Earthbending. At a later point, he uses the rather more vulgar "What in the name of Oma's bastard children?"
    • Kirima gives us "Tui's gills!" This is referring to the Moon Spirit koi fish at the North Pole.
    • Avatar Yangchen is occasionally invoked or thanked for aid, blessing, protection, etc.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Xu Ping An tortures Kyoshi with lightning bolts during their duel, Rangi’s usually ironclad composure shatters and she openly begs him to stop. It’s actually Rangi’s distress rather than her own that drives Kyoshi to enter the Avatar State.
  • The Paralyzer: Jianzhu breaks out some shirshu-spit darts to paralyse Kyoshi, Rangi and Lek for up to an hour. Unfortunately for them, and while previously the toxin was shown to be non-lethal, Lek has an allergic reaction and dies while Kyoshi can only watch, powerless to help.
  • Parental Abandonment: Kyoshi's parents did this to her when Kyoshi was about six or seven. Kyoshi remembers and is bitter about it. Finding out later that they took in Lek and raised him to be a fine bandit serves to infuriate Kyoshi further.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Kelsang is this to Kyoshi, after taking pity on her when she was very young.
    • Jesa and Hark adopted Lek shortly after they abandoned Kyoshi. Kyoshi resents this when she finds out.
  • Power Incontinence: Most of the nations are content to allow benders to discover their powers on their own. The Fire Nation, on the other hand, makes sure to test children for potential as soon as possible (often before they can walk) because a kid who can only shoot embers can still spark a massive fire.
  • Reincarnation: Kyoshi is the Avatar, and is therefore the reincarnation of the previous Avatar Kuruk. An early plot thread and point was about finding the new Avatar. Usually, the Earthbending methods have been foolproof, but they weren't having any success this time. This caused bandits, known as daofei, and corrupt officials to become more bold, resulting in Jianzhu and Kelsang to use less traditional methods. Yun is incorrectly identified as the Avatar due to randomly using all of Kuruk's favorite Pai Sho moves, which is statistically improbable.
  • Reincarnation-Identifying Trait: Kelsang and Jianzhu tried and failed to spot this trait for 14 years. Yun was initially identified as the Avatar because he was drawing Pai Sho tiles at random and using them to instantly, flawlessly execute all of Kuruk's prized, intricate, and top secret strategies. Kyoshi sings the words of a poem Kuruk wrote seemingly out of thin air. Kelsang Lampshades that these incidents both represent how drastically they lowered their standards in their desperation to find the Avatar, and Yun ends up being as such identified incorrectly. At least two other kids besides Kyoshi also choose one or two of the Avatar relics, though not the full set, showing that random chance really is just that random.
  • Required Secondary Powers: It's mentioned that Firebenders protect themselves from their own flames so instinctively that it doesn't even need to be taught. Fire can burn them, but never their own.
  • Retcon: "The Warriors of Kyoshi" states that Kyoshi was born on what would one day become Kyoshi Island. Here, it's stated that Kyoshi's exact birthplace is unknown, and she didn't arrive in Yokoya until she was 5 or 6.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Master Amak, of the 'things just got real' variety.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Kelsang, because things were apparently not real enough after the Sacrificial Lamb detailed above. False Avatar Yun appears to be this, but when you Never Found the Body, well...
  • Secret Art: Xu Ping An's lightning bending. In Kyoshi's time, lightning bending was akin to unaided Flight of Korra's time: An art that was thought to be lost to time, if not simply a myth. Before the events of the book, the Fire Nation requested that Jianzhu spare his life so that they could try to pry the secret out of him.
  • Secret Test of Character: Subverted. Kyoshi expects this to be the case when she finds out that her assassination target, Governor Te, is only a teenager, but Lao Ge really did want him dead because of his evil actions, and thinks Kyoshi sparing his life was the wrong move. Rather than punish her, however, he simply warns her that any further crimes the governor commits are now on her head too.
  • Shout-Out: The phrase "Do The Thing" is tossed out more than a few times.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The first fight of the book comes towards the end of the first act against the pirate gang, the Fifth Nation. They've been causing problems for quite some time but Jianzhu decides to move against them once he finds out they've been enslaving people from the southern coast of the Earth Kingdom to build their ships.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Early in the book, Kyoshi begins to sing an improvised song. Kelsang immediately recognizes it as the same song Kuruk wrote for Hei-Ran. As only Kelsang himself and Kuruk would know of the song, it's one of the biggest clues to Kelsang that Kyoshi may actually be the reincarnated Avatar.
  • Start of Darkness: When Kyoshi flees Jianzhu, she is willing to work with daofei (bandits) in order to gain support and defeat Jianzhu. Rangi is very worried about the Avatar becoming a criminal.
  • Stepping Stones in the Sky: Kyoshi learns how to "dust-step" from the Flying Opera Company. It appears as though they're walking on air, but it's Not Quite Flight — they're actually walking on lots of dust particles too small to be seen. Waterbenders can do a similar thing called "mist-stepping".
  • Unrequited Love: Kuruk and Hei-Ran. Hei-Ran herself revealed she had a small crush on Kuruk, but neither acted on it.
  • Voice of the Legion: As is standard, Kyoshi's voice is described to be this while in the Avatar State, but this isn't reflected in the audiobook. YouTuber "Everytime we Collide" does a good impression of it, though.
  • Worf Had the Flu:
    • Part of the reason why Keslang goes down so easily is that he’s not fully healed from the fight against the Fifth Nation. Jianzhu, Kyoshi, and Yun had borrowed his bison and so he had to come the whole way on his glider, further exacerbating his injuries. Kyoshi notes that it would have been a tough trip for someone at full health.
    • Jianzhu's poison gambit ends up inadvertently backfiring on him since, while he survives the poisoning, he ends up weakening himself in the process and doesn't give himself enough time to recover before his final confrontation with Kyoshi. This leave him entering the battle in a weakened state and it takes all of his concentration to fend of her earthbending. This also means he is unable to defend himself when Yun returns, who proceeds to kill him quite easily.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Kyoshi is set up to take the life of what is perceived to be a cruel lord that is starving his village. When she finally confronts him... he's a young teenage boy who admits that he's only continuing his father's policies without any thought. Kyoshi protects the child from Lao Ge while scaring him into becoming a more effective leader.
  • Wuxia: The novel lives and breathes the Wuxia genre; in particular the troupes of bandits living outside the law, and the Roof Hopping employed by the Flying Opera Company when they dust or mist step.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Jianzhu is forced to play a mean round of it when he loses Kyoshi. Unlike other examples of this trope, we see firsthand what he has to do, plan ahead of, and sacrifice to make these plans work.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Kyoshi executes Xu Ping An for being an insane, criminal warmonger. Unfortunately, since she was technically his subordinate and this was a legal duel, by a strict interpretation of the daofei Code she is now in charge of his gang. To outsiders, this makes it look like nothing but internal gang power struggles rather than the righteous justice of an Avatar.
  • You Have Out Lived Your Usefulness: Yun. Oh god, poor Yun. The moment Jianzhu realises that Yun is not the Avatar, he immediately leaves him to die.