Another year, another Avatar: The Last Airbender canon entry to review! F.C. Yee burst onto the scene in 2019 and 2020 with the Kyoshi duology. Both books were solid entries into the growing pantheon of Avatar stories. I even pined for Rise and Shadow to be adapted into a Kyoshi-centric movie. Now, F.C. Yee returns to the Four Nations with The Dawn of Yangchen, the air Avatar who precedes Kuruk and Kyoshi.
Yangchen travels to the city of Bin-Er to explore the boiling unrest among the city’s labor class. The shangs control most of the money and trade in the city, and they rule with an iron fist. They prevent Bin-er residents from getting travel passes to leave the city even for short stretches. Ostensibly, the shangs are meant to help the regular folk of Bin-Er, but instead they abuse their power to their own ends (and to pad their wallets). When Yangchen crosses paths with Kavik, a runner who gleans information in exchange for coin, she enlists him to help settle the unrest that threatens to undermine Bin-Er and other nearby shang-ruled cities. Soon, they hear rumblings about Unanimity, a mysterious advantage the shangs believe will be their ultimate bargaining chip to maintain their tight grip over the Bin-Er economy.
The Dawn of Yangchen further cements F.C. Yee as an increasingly adept Avatar storyteller. He clearly understands the world, the issues that plague it, and the characters who want to improve it. Yangchen feels more realized as a character here than Kyoshi did across two novels. I cut Yee some slack there, because Kyoshi’s arc relied on self-discovery. Yangchen, on the other hand, struggles to apply her principles to the world’s issues. She’s particularly interesting because she’s the first Air Nomad Avatar we’ve spent time with outside of Aang. Yangchen has the entire Air Nomad society to rely on, like a large extended family that shares collective values. Yangchen struggles against problems she can’t fix and bears the weight of grief for people she can’t save. She doesn’t want to accomplish the bare minimum and be remembered as a figurehead, a statue erected in honor of deeds embellished by legend.
No surprise, then, that she befriends Kavik. They first meet when Kavik is hired to rob her, though he isn’t sure who he’s robbing. Yanchen catches him in the act, shows him mercy, and finagles Kavik into her schemes. The trust they build ramps up a liiiiitle too fast for my liking, and I balked at the typical YA storytelling. Yee knows what he’s doing, though, and he accounts for Yangchen’s hasty choices with later plot developments.
Those notes aside, I could take or leave Kavik. He’s a unique Avatar companion, to be sure, but I don’t find him all that interesting beyond his relationship with Yangchen. Much of the book features the young waterbender, so if you love him, your mileage will vary.
Of all the Avatar spin-offs, Yangchen has by far my favorite plot. Toppling a capitalistic regime masquerading as “for the people” feels fresh and relevant. It’s not so close to home that it feels like a copy/paste of our current political climate, but Yee leaves room for the reader to connect the dots.
The mystery of Unanimity does a lot of the story’s legwork, and the reveal doesn’t disappoint. When you spend an entire novel wondering what some shrouded weapon/advantage might be, it’d better be sweet when the reader finally understands. I was tickled by the Unanimity reveal, and I’m very excited to see where Yee takes this specific arc. The book ends with a “To be continued…” so we’ll see what’s next.
The Dawn of Yangchen is a ton of fun. F.C. Yee is a strong voice and sturdy hand more than capable of guiding Avatar canon. This novel doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it need to. It’s more Avatar adventuring, a new cast of characters, and a riveting story. What more could a diehard ATLA fan want?
Rating: The Dawn Of Yangchen – 8.5/10