In 2019, author F.C. Yee brought the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender into the young adult fiction space, when he authored The Rise of Kyoshi. The first of the Kyoshi duology, readers got to explore one of Avatar Aang’s more notable previous incarnations in how she came to be one of the more hardcore Avatars.
Three years later, Yee is continuing what is now referred to as the Chronicles of the Avatar series with The Dawn of Yangchen; where the young airbending Avatar finds herself in the midst of corruption and power wielding at play within the Earth Kingdom.
When Yee first signed on to do the Kyoshi novels, there were no plans for anything beyond that. Yet sometime after The Shadow of Kyoshi was released, the folks at Abrams spoke to him about writing more stories within the Avatar universe. Yangchen was selected as the next incarnation to explore.
“She’s about the same age as Kyoshi, but she is in a different stage of her Avatar career due to various factors,” he explained in a phone interview, “due to things such as when she was identified as the Avatar, what was her upbringing, who were the people around what her strengths and weaknesses as Avatar might be, what her personal is like, and including some existing lore as well.”
Yee studied the tidbits mentioned of Yangchen in the original series, in Escape from the Spirit World, as well as her appearances in the comics. He even had to look back at his own work for reference.
“So, I’d had to build off of all those sources, including the fact that my own work wasn’t necessarily, in Kyoshi where I featured Yangchen, I wasn’t really necessarily writing that with the idea that eventually I’d cover her in a series of books,” he said. “So trying to look at what I established and then working backward from that is an approach that I did try to take again for Yangchen in a way that I hope is interesting and makes sense for her.”
Because of how different the personalities are between the two respective Avatars, Yee had to do some extra work to get out of Kyoshi’s headspace, in order to properly write Yangchen. While Kyoshi is more so an enforcer, he described Yangchen as more of a negotiator.
“One of the things that the universe has made pretty consistent, and I think I’ve even addressed somewhere in the Kyoshi books, is that no Avatar is ever really the same,” he relayed. “They’re just different from each other, just the way that all people are different from each other. So coming up with a novel approach to problem solving required that little bit of extra effort. I mean, there’s an extra bit of consideration where someone like Yangchen isn’t necessarily going to resort to the same methods [and] forces specifically the way that Kyoshi would.”
Along with the difference in characteristics, there’s also the difference in genres of their stories as well. The Kyoshi duology is more or less a revenge thriller. With what’s at play in The Dawn of Yangchen, readers can anticipate more of a politics and espionage thriller.
Yangchen is the last airbending Avatar to have lived and died before the genocide of the Air Nomads. While her story is set centuries before then, that knowledge did have Yee thinking over how the people of her culture would be, when not faced with a crisis akin to the Fire Nation taking over.
“There’s definitely considerations of how the flourishing Air Nomad community interacts with the people living in the lands around them, what their influences are, how they interact with the world as an ongoing group, as opposed to the way Aang interacts as a solitary Air Nomad,” he said. “So that type of consideration of a thriving Air Nomad committee certainly did play a role in the book, especially Yangchen’s interactions with her own nation. Trying to figure out Yangchen’s own relationship with her friends and family was a factor that doesn’t form her character the same way that Kyoshi probably does have opinions about the Earth Kingdom.”
Outside of writing, Yee practices capoeira; a martial art from Brazil that also combines dance and acrobatics. While this is not one of the many martial arts that the Avatar world’s fighting styles is based off of, he did remark that just knowing it has definitely helped when writing fight scenes, even if the exact movements aren’t the ones depicted.
“When you play capoeira — and ‘play’ is the word that is used — you’re creating a dialogue with the other person with you in the ring, [and] there’s kind of a question posed and then answer and call and response to the overall movements,” he described. “That helps build sort of a narrative in a session of capoeira. Taking that approach can certainly help when describing a fight scene in narrative terms on the page. So I definitely used that approach and trying to figure out where narrative meshes with action is always enjoyable.
“When crafting a scene, you’re still playing with your audience’s expectations and trying to build an escalation and a climax the way that you are trying to do throughout your entire story. So what I know and have experience about martial arts absolutely does form the depiction of action.”
The Dawn of Yangchen is distinctive in being Yee’s first novel written during the pandemic. He recalled the degree of difficulty it added to the process, that led to him making adjustments to his routines, habits, and environments. He hopes that because the readers were going through the same thing, that he has been able to do his audience a service.
“We’ve all gone through this collective experience and I’m hoping that I’m, at least, still able to entertain and delight in the same way that we did before,” he said, “and my aim, whether I succeed or not, is still to provide that same sense of experience for the Avatar community that we went through together with Kyoshi, even if circumstances are different.”
What he thematically aims to get across in this new novel is that we can’t lose faith in ourselves, even in trying times. As he elaborated, “Where circumstances and difficult times can sometimes make us question as a group, as a collective, do we have what it takes to get through this? And the answer is yes, we have to believe that we can. We have to believe that relying on each other is the way through and that we will all see better times.”
The Dawn of Yangchen will be available on Tuesday, July 19 wherever books are sold.