From ‘Rise’ to ‘Shadow,’ F.C. Yee on Deepening the Story of Avatar Kyoshi

Last summer, the universe of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra expanded with the release of The Rise of Kyoshi; the first young adult novel in the franchise. Written by F.C. Yee, it tells of the humble beginnings of the hardcore, justice-pursuing Avatar Kyoshi.

Now, Yee is capping off the Kyoshi duology with the release of The Shadow of Kyoshi. In the aftermath of establishing herself as a fully realized avatar, Kyoshi stumbles her way across the world, tending to her responsibilities as best she can, when a mysterious threat emerges from the Spirit World.

In an e-mail interview, Yee discusses writing The Shadow of Kyoshi following its predecessor’s positive reception, on writing a story set around the Spirit World, and also his thoughts on the recently resurged interest in the series that started it all.

F.C. Yee, author of The Shadow of Kyoshi

The last time we spoke, it was right before The Rise of Kyoshi came out. Since its release, there’s been a positive response to it. It even became a New York Times bestseller! What do you make of all that?

I was thrilled by the response to The Rise of Kyoshi. Seeing an audience excited to read your work is one of the most incredible and humbling things that can happen to an author. It proves how meaningful the Avatar universe has been and will continue to be to its fans.

In what ways did the response affect — if at all — your approach and expectations for writing The Shadow of Kyoshi?

It upped the pressure quite a bit for Shadow; besides the omnipresent worry that I might step with the wrong footing in the Avatar universe, now there was my own body of work thrown into the mix as well. It was trying to navigate a room that I’d personally made more crowded. As with the first book, what got me through it was the guidance of [Avatar co-creator] Mike [DiMartino], my editor Anne, and my Nickelodeon editor Joan. As Iroh says, “A little help from others can be a great blessing.”

How was writing this latest installment easier than its predecessor, and on the flip side, how was it difficult?

It was easier in that I didn’t have to weave in as many origin stories for certain aspects of her character, like how she developed her iconic look or where she received bending instruction from. On the other hand, little mysteries like those are convenient hooks to hang a larger plot on, and I couldn’t rely on them while writing Shadow.

You’ve written Kyoshi to be such a compelling character, with an origin story very much unlike her successors, Aang and Korra. How did your approach to her change — if at all — now that she’s a fully realized avatar?

The approach in Book Two had to change because after the events of Rise and her unveiling to the world, she has authority laid upon her shoulders but not any practice in using it. Even if she can wield all four elements, she still has a lot of trials ahead of her. Her personal conflicts, which made up most of Rise, are inevitably going to have to share space with external political struggles due to the responsibilities of the avatar.

The Spirit World plays an important role in this novel. How was it for you to get to write a story involving that part of the Avatar universe?

It was hard because when it came to the Spirit World, I wrote a few checks in Rise that I had to cash in Shadow, so to speak. The Spirit World is a nebulous place to begin with, so it took a couple of tries to nail that part down in a way that gave the necessary support to the main story.

If there is a message for readers to take away from reading The Shadow of Kyoshi, what would it be?

I think the message is that we’re obligated to keep trying to do the best we can for others. I personally believe The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra and the comics share this message. We see it manifest through very different heroes with very different methods, but in the end, the avatar and their friends are all trying to do the same thing.

This is the second and last installment of the Kyoshi novels. What will you miss about writing for the Avatar universe?

I’ll miss the camaraderie with the readership over this universe and the characters in it.

There appears to be a revived spark for the Avatar franchise with Avatar: The Last Airbender marking its 15th anniversary earlier this year, and with the series’ return to Netflix. As a fan and a writer, what are your thoughts on all this?

In my opinion, the Avatar universe both shaped and broke the mold for a generation of storytellers. I believe Avatar is why people of a certain age look at a compelling villain these days and then reflexively think “How are they going to be redeemed?” Avatar is why we look at a system of magic, a set of fantastical rules, and then immediately dream of how it might be modified in innovative ways. Avatar is why, instead of questioning our awesomeness, we ask instead what kind of awesomeness fits us the best.

I am so, so glad more fans are getting to experience this, and that veteran fans get to relive it all over again.

The last time I interviewed you, I asked you to name your favorite character and episode from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This time around, can you name your favorite character and episode from The Legend of Korra?

I think my favorite character from Korra is Tenzin because he encompasses so much seen and unseen story, and so much inner struggle. We should all try as hard as Tenzin does.

My favorite episode is “Welcome to Republic City,” because of the sheer wonder that we get to share with Korra as she embarks on her journey. There’s just something about avatars, staring into the distance, that hits me right in the feels.

The Shadow of Kyoshi will be available wherever books are sold on Tuesday, July 21.

Be sure to also catch Yee speak on the Water, Earth, Fire, Air: Continuing the Avatar Legacy panel this Friday, July 24 at 1:00PM PDT as part of Comic-Con @ Home.