Read a full summary of The Rise of Kyoshi, book #1 of F.C. Yee’s The Kyoshi Novels, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Rise of Kyoshi, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Veronica, a new BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Visit her blog to see what she’s been reading, and check out her Goodreads page, too (link at the end of the recap).
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Rise of Kyoshi?
Earthbender Jianzu and Airbender Kelsang are on a secret mission to find the Avatar. The companions of the late Avatar Kuruk are trying to fulfill their promise to find the next Avatar and do right by them. The only problem is it’s been seven years, and they still can’t find his replacement. They can already feel the rumblings of imbalance in the world, but the Earth Kingdom’s traditional identification methods aren’t working.
That’s why the pair is sneaking off to a poor provincial island called Yokoya to administer the Air Nomad test in the Earth Cycle. It’s a test run before they bring the idea to the elders. They fill a room with toys, and the Avatar, theoretically, should be drawn to the four special toys in a remembrance of their past lives. They don’t make much progress until the last child, a tall orphan girl named Kyoshi, manages to run off with the Avatar’s clay turtle. She’s the only child who came close to one of the four relics, and now it’s gone forever.
Fast forward several years, and Kyoshi has been pretty much adopted by Kelsang and is now working for Jianzu as part of Avatar Yun’s household staff. She doesn’t earthbend because of some secret “little problem.” She’s still bullied by the villagers, but at least she’s clothed and fed and housed. She even has friends–Avatar Yun and his firebender bodyguard, Rangi.
Avatar Yun is not squandering his time—pursuing pleasures around the Four Nations or dying early like his former self—but living a life of relentless training and discipline. Despite his best efforts, he has yet to produce any fire, but that’s just between him, Sifu Jianzhu, Master Kelsang, and Madam Hei-Ran, his firebending instructor/the last of the Kuruk’s companions/Rangi’s mom. While Yun’s earthbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone because he hasn’t technically learned to bend any of the other three elements he’s supposed to be a master of.
As part of his official Avatar duties, Yun will be meeting with the waterbending pirate Tagaka to sign a peace treaty between her “Fifth Nation” of bandits and the rest of Four Nations. It’s the only hope they have of saving the entire village of Earth Nation citizens she’s been holding hostage. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Jianzu engages in some Avatar abuse to try to help things along with his firebending. It doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, Kyoshi hears rumors things are not so chummy between the politically savvy (or power-hungry) Jianzu and peaceful monk. Since Yun isn’t anywhere near ready for airbending training yet, Kelsang joins Kyoshi and works in the kitchen. He and the staff play a game using a well-known shanty, but when Kyoshi joins in, singing random verses off the top of her head, Kelsang freaks out. He thinks she might be the Avatar. The words she randomly sang are the words Kuruk wrote in a poem he’d wanted to give to the then newly wed Hei-Ran until Kelsang stopped him. It’s impossible that anyone else would know those exact words.
Kyoshi is confused because Yun is the Avatar, so Kelsang lets her in on a little secret that could cast a shadow of illegitimacy on Yun:
“We’d honestly given up on finding the Avatar, like so many others. On the last day of our trip, we noticed a crowd gathering in a corner of the town square. They were gathered around a child with a Pai Sho board. Yun. He was hustling tourists like us, and he’d made quite a bit of money at it too. To give his opponents confidence, he was running the blind bag gambit. It’s when your opponent plays normally, picking their tiles, but you dump yours into a sack and mix them up randomly. Whatever you draw each turn is what you have to play. An insurmountable advantage. What most people don’t know, and what Yun didn’t know was that the blind bag is supposed to be a scam. You’re meant to rig the tiles or the bag itself so you have a way to find the exact combinations you need.”
“But Yun wasn’t cheating. He was actually drawing randomly and winning. We might have passed it off as a kid enjoying a string of luck, but Jianzhu noticed he was drawing and playing Kuruk’s favorite strategies, turn by turn, down to the exact placement of the exact tile. Game after game he was doing this. He displayed tricks and traps that Kuruk explicitly kept secret from anyone but us. After what Jianzhu went through with Xu Ping An and the Yellow Necks, it was as if a mountain range had been lifted off his shoulders. Any doubts he might have had completely vanished when he saw Yun earthbend. Granted, the kid can move rocks like no one else. If we identified the Avatar solely through a precision-bending content, he’d be Kurk’s incarnation hands down.”
He tells her more secrets, of Yun’s firebending difficulties and Jianzhu’s extreme methods. He still feels Yun has the strongest case for being the Avatar but also thinks they need to consider Kyoshi. This is too much for her to handle, so she asks him to keep a secret for a while.
Kyoshi gets invited to Yun’s business trip. On the way to the treaty signing, she has a bad dream involving hooded figures with masks of running water, a transaction “that would be violated the instant it became an inconvenience to uphold,” and papers sealed in oilcloth hitting her in the shins. Yun gifts her her signature outfit.
Yun and pirate Tagaka meet, and she reveals some more secrets. Apparently Yun’s bending masters are also notorious killers. Jianzhu, aka the Gravedigger of Zhulu Pass, buried five thousand rebel Yellow Necks alive and terrorized the rest into submission. Hei-Ran holds the Royal Academy records for the most “accidental” kills during Agni Kais. Kelsang, aka the Living Typhoon, summoned a storm that kept an entire generation of pirates from leaving the Eastern Seas. Just when things are getting tense, she excuses herself, leaving the trio with their angry and confused charges. The oldies claim they did what they had to to maintain balance in an Avatar-less world.
She runs into a drunk man who tries to hit on her. He thinks he recognizes her from somewhere, but the woman he remembers had serpent tattoos up and down her arms. He’s obviously struck a chord because Kyoshi gets extra mad, so we know there’s more to the story. The next day, they meet with the pirates again. Yun and Tagaka go through the motions of propriety and the ceremonial niceties. Before they can actually sign the treaty, waterbenders surround them. It’s an ambush.
Yun is a hostage, everyone is dying or helpless, but Kyoshi is mad. Nobody messes with her friends. She manages to bend the sea floor up to the surface of the water. “She was somehow both leading and being led by an army of benders.” This gives everyone else time to start their counterattacks, and they are able to defeat the pirates. Kyoshi passes out.
When she wakes up, Kyoshi has a little chat with Jianzu. Apparently she and Kelsang didn’t fully explain her earthbending “problem” to him. He knew she couldn’t manipulate small things but had no idea she could manipulate giant slabs of earth. Apparently she’d just pulled off a feat even the Gravedigger Zhulu Pass couldn’t do. Jianzu also talks to her about Earth Kingdom. He talks about the splintered Earth Nation and how he’s the only thing holding the patchwork nation together, not its useless kings. He goes on and on about how his influence reaches far beyond the Earth Kingdom and the importance of loyalty and the dangers that occur when people doubt the Avatar’s legitimacy.
When he finally stops talking, Kyoshi runs away and finds out her friends are mad at her. Apparently Kelsang told them their theory while she was sleeping. She’s mad at Kelsang, but he claims he had to tell them because she was passed out for three days. At least that explains her heart-to-heart with Jianzu earlier.
Kyoshi gets promoted and starts doing everything Yun does. They continue their flirty friendship and have a moment, so she knows things are okay between them. She fails Hei-Ran’s firebending test that works on infants, but it’s not like Yun could do it either. Since they don’t know who the Avatar is, it’s time for a field trip, Earthbenders only.
Jianzu takes them to a remote mountain and lights some incense so they can “practice meditating.” Too bad it’s a trap. The incense paralyzes them, and their spiritual energy brings out Father Glowworm, who looks much scarier than he sounds. Jianzu knows he and the past Avatars have had history, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Yun’s poison training gives him enough strength to buy them some time, but when the spirit creature reveals Kyoshi’s the true Avatar, Jianzu literally cuts his losses to save her and lets Yun become spiritual worm food. What better way to resolve a love triangle than with death, right?
Kyoshi screams and fire comes out of her mouth. She runs out of steam and gets a threat from Jianzu about what’ll happen if she steps out of line. His lecture is interrupted by Kelsang and Pengpeng, his sky bison. The two men get in a fight, but while Kelsang’s just looking to knock some sense into his old friend, Jianzu goes for the kill. ]Kyoshi goes full-on Avatar state and creates lots of destruction (that Jianzu somehow survives) and then flies off into the rain with Pengpeng.
She goes back home to get her belongings. Everyone is too scared to interrupt her rage. She’s poor, so it doesn’t take too long to pack. She doesn’t think to take the essentials like food and stuff. She breaks open her treasure chest and takes out a pair of fans, a headpiece, and makeup. Rangi joins her and brings survival stuff like money and water because she’s a good friend/Avatar-guard. Kyoshi tries small earthbending and accidentally breaks a decades-old airbender relic and the only memory she has left of Kelsang.
Back at the compound, Jianzu lies to Hei-Ran about what really happened on Mr. Glowworm’s mountain. Apparently Kelsang and Yun “disappeared” because of a “treacherous spirit,” and Kyoshi’s holding a grudge against him because of it. Now that that’s all out in the open, they start plotting. They need to figure out how to get her back and what to tell the Four Nations.
The girls go to Chameleon Bay and visit a janky tea house. She sits at a particular pai sho table and orders using a secret code she read in the journal she’s been avoiding all her life. The tea house is actually a cover for a daofei hideout. There’s a scuffle because the little waiter who was taking her order thinks she and Ragni are undercover cops. That’s when Kyoshi reveals her big secret: Her parents were the founders of the gang, and she wants all of their manpower and resources to help her find the best bending teachers they can find. She wants them now.
Now it’s time for introductions: There’s the Si Wong boy, Water Tribe woman, bulky man, and old drunk. Si Wong Boy is Bullet Lek or Skullcrusher Lek or Lek of the Whistling Death. The bulky man is Flitting Sparrowkeet Wong. The Waterbender is Kirima. The drunkard is Lao Ge. And the four of them make up the Flying Opera Company.
This is not what Kyoshi was expecting. The little criminal handbook her mama left behind made it sound like she’d have an entire outlaw empire at her disposal, not this. Things get worse when she finds out the (real) cops are coming. The common enemy causes them to form a temporary truce, and they all manage to escape to Pengpeng and fly away. This leads to Kyoshi’s Big Reveal #2: Her mom was an airbender, which means she’s half-earthbender, half-Air Nomad. Maybe that’s why they had such a hard time finding her. And her mom was the tattoo lady.
Later, Kyoshi approaches Lao Ge alone for some secret business. From what she’s read in her mother’s journal, the old man constantly looking for alcohol and complaining about her loud spirit is actually Tieguai the Immortal, or Tieguai the Assassin. She hopes he is because she wants to learn how to kill a man: Jianzu. Lao Ge can sense the hidden power insider her, so they make a deal: He’ll teach her if she keeps quiet. They’ll keep each other’s secrets.
Kyoshi and Rangi do some secret firebending training and argue about all the secrets. Kyoshi gets mad and does some erratic firebending, and then Kyoshi and the daofei continue to negotiate. She wants to learn their signature move “dust stepping,” bending small pieces of earth to “walk” on air, but they’ll only teach members of the Flying Opera Company. She agrees to take their oaths and join the gang, which makes Rangi even madder. They promise to teach her–Wong will even teach her how to use her fans–but first they need a (criminal) job so they’re not starving in the wilderness.
Back in Yokoya, Jianzhu and Hei-Ran get an invitation for the Avatar to a fancy party thrown by Jianzhu’s rival, Hui. Jianzhu reunites with his old master, Lu Beifong and gets in a verbal sparring match with Hui. Later, he pulls Hui aside to confess that he “lost” the Avatar. He claims he and Yun got in a heated argument about his bending progress and that the Avatar ran away with Kelsang’s help (and sky bison). This is a surprise to Hei-Ran who was not involved in this particular plan.
Apparently, Jianzhu plans to gamble. Hui helps him announce that Yun and Kelsang are on a “spiritual journey” and not to be contacted. This is all according to Jianzhu’s plan. Now he has time to find Kyoshi because all the bigwigs believe Hui’s lie. He’s Jianzhu’s political rival, after all, so he’d never do anything to help the Avatar’s guardian. He moves on to part two of his plan which is get some shirshus.
The Flying Opera Company flies over to Huijiang, a hidden town full of criminals, looking for work. Unfortunately, they run into “Uncle” Mok while running amok. Mok is the cruel leader of the notorious Autumn Bloom Society. When the Flying Opera Company fell on hard times, they accepted the Autumn Bloom Society as their elders in exchange for some favors and cash. Technically, Mok is their boss now.
He’s especially mean to Lek and has no tolerance for the weak. He gives them their assignment: in thirty days, all of his forces will attack the palace of Te Sihung, governor in the Eastern Provinces, to free Mok’s brother who’s been a prisoner for eight years. But first, Rangi participates in a lei tai to gain some respect from the Mok but also because she wants Kyoshi to know how it feels to watch someone you love do stupid, crazy things. They confess their feelings to each other.
The next morning, a shirshu attacks. Thankfully, the entire town of bandits rallies together to take it down. Kyoshi and company run away, but not before they notice the shirshu had been tracking her and demand answers. She reveals Yun’s not the Avatar. She is.
They don’t believe her, so Kirima throws some water at her, but she’s able to waterbend a tiny little drop using her fan. Everyone is shook. The Flying Opera Company want to part ways, so they don’t sully the name of the Avatar. Instead, Kyoshi insists she will honor her oath. She’s got all her daofei, and she’s going to help them infiltrate Te’s house.
She makes a secret agreement with Lao Ge and agrees to kill Governor Te as part of her assassin training. He waxes philosophical about the morality of killing bad people and talks about how a peasant assassin and the Avatar aren’t so different when they take justice into their own hands. He complains about how her air and water chakras are overflowing and quotes morally questionable philosophers.
Jianzhu gets a message about the shirshus and leaves with two guards to get information from the trackers. He finds an ambush waiting for him and kills everyone. He notices they’re all wearing badges of the Autumn Bloom Society. His earthbending senses help him the road to Hujiang, but the town is basically abandoned.
He thinks Kiyoshi has been captured by the daofei and tries unsuccessfully to interrogate the remaining gangster before killing him. He realizes too late that the guardsman who had followed him is a spy for Hui. He’s figured out the truth about the missing Avatar; he just didn’t figure out that Avatar’s not Yun. And he sent a messenger hawk to his boss with all his discoveries.
Lao Ge takes her on a field trip through the village outside the governors house so she can see the poor people and realize how corrupt he is and theoretically feel better—or at least more justified—about killing him. He also tells her the secret to immortality is keeping your body “neat and tidy” on the smallest levels. He is a very mysterious and strange man. The entire gang starts scoping out the governor’s house making plans. Kyoshi also begins her real training with the others.
A month passes, and it’s time for battle. They meet up with Mok to present their plan. They assume the prisoner is being kept under the oldest part of the palace. The Flying Opera Company will be responsible for taking out the security in that area. The rest of the Autumn Bloom Society members and mercenaries will launch a full scale attack on the other end to distract the guards and prevent them from defending the prison. Kyoshi’s gang will sneak in and free their man. (She and Lao Ge will sneak off to kill the governor, but that’s a secret.)
Mok approves, and everyone goes to their posts to get ready. For the members of the Kang Shen sect that Mok hired, that means performing secret purification ceremonies that will supposedly make them immune to the elements. For the Flying Opera Co., that means make-up time.
When the battle begins, Kyoshi issues new orders to her team: find a way to attack the palace with an army, save the lives of everyone inside the palace, keep the army from killing itself, and rescue a prisoner from inside the walls. She may be a criminal Avatar, but she refuses to be a murderous one. Kyoshi and Kirima waterbend the turtle-duck pond to wipe out (but not kill) the guards and create a moat to prevent the daofei from getting closer.
The team part ways to “find the prisoner,” so Lao Ge and Kyoshi look for their prey. She finds out the governor is a fetus. Lao Ge knew the whole time; this is part of her test. Luckily, she’s prepared for the test and ] does what she was always planning to do. She airbends Lao Ge out of the way and sprints the teenage Te to safety. Surprise: She can airbend and she can dust step. All those failed training sessions were for show.
She sends Te off to safety and warns him to be a better leader or else. She and the others regroup, and they watch Mok reunite with his brother. It’s all very touching until everyone takes off their moon peach blossom pins and replaces them with yellow scarfs. Surprise: The Autumn Bloom Society was secretly the Yellow Necks all along. And the prisoner Avatar Kyoshi just freed was their brutal leader, Xu Ping An.
She tries to take the path of the earthbenders, neutral jing, but can’t just sit and watch while he razes the village. She challenges Xu to a duel to buy some time. It’s a bending lei tai; anything goes. But then her fans get struck by lightning, and she burns her hands. Surprise: He’s a firebender, and a strong one, at that. This is a Big Deal because bending lightning is so rare there aren’t even enough witnesses to confirm it exists.
Kyoshi enters the Avatar state, but this time she has full control. She kills Xu and scares the rest of the Yellow Necks away. Her hands are badly burned from the lightning, so she passes out. Some village healer works with Kirima to heal her wounds while she’s knocked out. She eventually wakes up and makes up with Lek. He tells her his tragic backstory, and she tells him she’s glad her parents were with him.
Meanwhile, Hei-Ran can see the writing on the wall and just wants to throw in the towel and let Hui win. She misses her daughter. Jianzhu gets a letter from Governor Te going on and on about a giant of a woman who could bend two elements and is very much alive. He gets another letter about the dead Yellow Necks and girl with glowing eyes. He figures it out.
Unfortunately he’s interrupted by unexpected guests. It’s Hui and all his political rivals. They’ve come to strip him of his (unofficial?) title as the Avatar’s guardian. Jianzhu works with the servants to accommodate his guests. He’s very fixated on getting tea served. He drinks from his cup and suddenly blacks out.
Now that everyone’s friends, Lek, Rangi, and Kyoshi go buy new gloves to cover the scars on her hands and also get surprise poison darts in their neck. Kyoshi watches Lek die and Rangi get dragged off before she passes out.
How did The Rise of Kyoshi end?
Kyoshi wakes up to Rangi’s topknot attached to a ransom note. This is a big deal because top knots are honored in the Fire Nation, so Rangi is very much in trouble and very much insulted. If you’re wondering who sent the note, you don’t have to wait too long: Jianzhu’s alive and well and reveals he spiked the tea with poison, killing all his enemies in one fell swoop. He included himself to avoid suspicion and is only alive because of his poison training. Hei-Ran is only barely hanging on thanks to her inner fire.
Kyoshi says goodbye to the remaining Flying Opera members and goes to the great stone tea house to meet the kidnapper. They get in an earthbending standoff. Suddenly everything starts happening in slow-motion. A cloaked figure walks with purpose toward their table. Neither she nor Jianzhu can move. It’s as if a third presence had joined their struggle, clasping its hands over their interlocked bending, squeezing them together. The person throws back his hood. It’s Yun.
He looks totally normal, but there’s something essential missing from him. Something human. Even the other customers run away from him. He plucks a little rock from their grasp and shoves it straight through Jianzhu then turns around and leaves like a stone-cold killer. Kyoshi doesn’t have time to think about it because there’s chaos everywhere. She enters the Avatar state and saves the store. She reunites with the Flying Opera Company who had saved Rangi and her poisoned mom while she was off doing battle.
Fast forward a bit, and now Kyoshi is at the Southern Air Temples alone. Kirima and Wong go back to their smuggling ways but promise to keep in touch. Lao Ge has got to go his own way. Rangi takes Hei-Ran to the North Pole because that’s where all the best healers are. So Kyoshi’s with the monks in the sky. Reports of a young man killing Jianzhu have been confirmed by witnesses, so Kyoshi’s not crazy. She tries to meditate and enjoy some peace and quiet but is interrupted by Avatar Kuruk, who needs her help.
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