“She would fight her ill fortune,her bad stars, and protect those who might despise her until the very end of her days.”

I thought I already loved Avatar Kyoshi, having grown up with Avatar the Last Airbender (I was 12 when it aired!) and fallen in love with the Legend of Korra as a young adult and gotten to know the character. Well, I had no idea just how much more I could fall for the Earth Kingdom legend. The Rise of Kyoshi was a blast from start to finish, introducing fans of the Avatar universe to a new side of Kyoshi, as well as the friends and foes who molded her. Kyoshi was often portrayed as a ruthless, powerful Avatar, yet elegant and refined in her diplomacy. She didn’t start that way, as we learn that she was an orphan, taken in by an infamous Earth Kingdom mogul who was molding who the world believed was the latest Avatar. A surprising turn events reveals that Kyoshi, the overlooked servant who happens to be over 7ft tall, is the true Avatar, and her freedom is instantly at risk. With the company of a Fire Nation guard and firebending prodigy, Rangi, Kyoshi runs in search of mentors and answers about her past. The book is rich with new scenery of the Avatar Universe, and more lore for fans who have long missed the series. Among my favorite parts are the growth of the characters, especially Kyoshi and Rangi, who’s adorable romance sparks in the background as the two young women work to understand how leaning on others is not a weakness but a strength. Rangi represents the type of women who are molded into weapons, encouraged to keep feelings muted in the face of raw power and intelligence. Kyoshi represents the kind of girls who, born into poverty, and expected to remain mute and submissive, never expected to amount to anything. I am always here for queer girls of color who fall in love, especially two powerhouse superheroes, but I ESPECIALLY love a story that unpacks power in a relationship—both physical and emotional. While Rangi starts off with more grounding in her abilities and confidence, Kyoshi helps her understand how her emotions are equally powerful. It’s all just so lovely. Frankly, their relationship and their support of each other is a very necessary source of lightness in a book that is very hard on Kyoshi, and illustrates why our hero evolved into a powerful, feared Avatar.

“shortsighted men were parasites who gnawed at the very structures they exploited for power and survival. They were blind to the fact that they existed not through their own merits but do to the warped form of charity the world had decided to give them.”

As I was finishing this book the same week Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the Presidential race, I couldn’t help but see just how relevant of a character Kyoshi is right now. Here we have a woman who has been beaten down time and time again, and has been forced to fix a world destroyed by men who underestimated her. She was born with nothing, and will spend the rest of her life fighting to make things right, in the face of criticism, hatred, and betrayal. She gets angry, she makes mistakes, but she never gives in. Now that’s a hero. I can’t wait to see how her story unfolds.