The Legacy Of Yangchen – Airing My Grievances

Welcome back to the Four Nations! FC Yee’s Avatar: The Last Airbender novel series continues with The Legacy of Yangchen. The book follows Yangchen and her waterbending frenemy Kavik after the explosive fallout at the end of The Dawn of Yangchen. Spoilers for the first book follow, so tread lightly. 

Avatar Yangchen has sequestered Unanimity—a powerful cadre of firebenders who will be familiar to fans of Avatar’s sparky sparky boom Combustion Man—in a remote section of the mountains near an Air Nomad temple. Her problems persist, though. The powerful shangs refuse to invest in their cities’ future, and Zongdu Chaisee continues her maneuvers for power and wealth. Meanwhile, Kavik, scorned by the avatar for betraying Unanimity’s location to his brother (one of Chaisee’s lackeys) is hiding under the protection of the White Lotus and its executor, Ayunerak. Despite the rift between them, the Avatar and Kavik reunite to foil Chaisee’s plot to eliminate the Fire Lord, Earth King, and Water Tribe Chief in one fell swoop. Kavik is expected to report the Avatar’s movements to the White Lotus, and he has to balance his assignment with his desire to reignite his friendship with Yangchen.

I love Avatar, and any canonical content gets instant points from me. This leads to a general appreciation for FC Yee’s novels set in the universe. I can set the flaws aside and enjoy what Yee offers. More Avatar is usually a good thing. In The Legacy of Yangchen, that streak ends. I didn’t hate the book by any means, but its problems started to pile up, and I was glad to be done after its ~300 pages. 

There’s a significant chance my obsession with the Overanalyzing Avatar YouTube channel has tainted these books for me. The channel—which I strongly recommend for any ATLA fans—does loving deep-dives into the show and extended universe material, pointing out quibbles, inconsistencies, and amazing things about Avatar. The only downside is my viewing lens has a lore-inconsistency radar I can’t turn off. That’s great for a review, but it’s not great if you just want to have fun reading an Avatar book. 

I had a non-zero amount of fun with The Legacy of Yangchen. There are nail biting scenes and tense moments that made for compelling reading. Most of these arrive at the tail-end of the book, showcasing FC Yee’s penchant for climactic finales. I appreciated Yangchen’s ability to conversationally duck and weave her way out of dangerous deals and be a bending badass when needed. 

The rest of the novel left me wanting. My main problem is the White Lotus. The organization is depicted as a brutal coalition of people intent on retaining control over world affairs and recovering powerful assets for themselves. It doesn’t line up with what I know of the White Lotus from the show. Avatar posed the White Lotus as a benevolent organization with noble goals. In The Legacy of Yangchen, they remain neutral until they must act, and those actions are far more self-serving than the other canonical depictions of them imply. Instead of an association dedicated to stopping tyranny, they come across as a sleeper cell waiting to pounce on opportunities for political control.

There’s also the problem of Yangchen’s White Lotus knowledge. She knows Kavik is under their protection/control. She knows who the organization’s leader is, for goodness’ sake. In the show, Aang has connections to his past lives that can give him crucial information, and never once is it revealed that he knows the White Lotus exists in any fashion. Add this to the White Lotus’ characterization as a kinda-sorta sinister party makes much of the novel feel off-kilter. 

Along those lines, Unanimity presents an interesting lore problem. The firebenders of Unanimity are capable of causing massive explosions. We’ve seen Combustion Man and P’Li from Avatar and Korra, respectively, but in the original show, Aang had no knowledge of this power or how it came to be. Yangchen’s discoveries in this book have odd implications for the canon of Aang’s story. 

I don’t want to harp on Yee for these changes too much, however. There are bound to be discrepancies when you’re working with an established property, especially if the story you’re writing takes place before the original content that inspired it. Many readers will be able to approach this novel seeking a fun romp through Yangchen’s world and thoroughly enjoy it.

That’s exactly what I tried to do, but I fell short. Other issues kept popping up, and I couldn’t look past them. In one chapter, Yangchen and two companions travel via sky bison to a remote island. By the end of their explorations, the bison is left unable to fly. The chapter ends, and we find ourselves back in Taku. The island was written to sound far away and hard to access, but getting back from it without a flying bison happened entirely off the page. 

From a thematic standpoint, I struggled to stay invested in The Legacy of Yangchen. Where FC Yee’ Kyoshi novels were about an Avatar discovering her place and power, this series spends more time on world politics. For two books just above 300 pages, they feel incredibly stretched. We lose the characters in the mess of diplomacy and underhanded dealings. Yangchen has to focus on the plan, there’s always a plan. She struggles to stay afloat within the machinations happening around her, but we don’t really get to see who she is. 

While I can get over the changes to the lore, I can’t ignore characters who aren’t given their due. Avatar stories thrive when they focus on growth and character development—I wrote a piece for explaining why Korra gets a bad rap for all the wrong reasons and actually does a great job with its characters. The world of Avatar is vibrant and diverse. The politics are intriguing. The lore is fantastic. But the stories always focus on character. How does the cast of a given Avatar story react to the things happening around them? How do they persevere in the face of adversity? Can relationships grow and thrive in a difficult sociopolitical environment? Legacy misses the mark on answering these questions. Avatar Yangchen is far too burdened by her responsibilities and the political machinations around her to be anything more than a pawn in a game. 

Kavik is similarly one-note in this book. He struggles with his previous betrayal of Yangchen and his relationship with his brother. The book feels like a novel-length plea for redemption, despite him being part of pretty much every plan this Team Avatar concocts. They’re reluctant, sure, but none of them seem to have much of a problem trusting Kavik when it counts. What’s the point of his need for redemption when the actions of the surrounding characters seem to telegraph they’re willing to allow it?

These issues culminate in a sore lack of bending. Cool Shit™ is an Avatar staple, and I can think of only one or two scenes that riveted me enough to think they’d be at home in an Avatar TV show or movie. The book also stretches the limits of what bending can do in inconsistent ways. Characters occasionally bend while highly restrained, displaying bouts of power that would be near-impossible based on my understanding of how the magic works. 

Of FC Yee’s four Avatar novels to date, The Legacy Of Yangchen is the weakest by a fair stretch. I was disappointed. Your mileage may vary, but I plan to exercise caution if and when the next book comes out. 

Rating: The Legacy Of Yangchen – 5.5/10

2 thoughts on “The Legacy Of Yangchen – Airing My Grievances

  1. Hi Cole,

    Thank you for a well-reasoned, and thorough review. I tend to see all things Avatar with rose-colored glasses as well and there was an inconsistency or two (getting to Taku) that I thought about but attributed to my usual reasoning (It’s Yangchen, she’ll find a way).

    But if I could offer a brief criticism of your review, I think the White Lotus was portrayed well and at the very least, has to be portrayed in the way it was to allow for more world building in the future. First, I think that if we sincerely look at the White Lotus ‘ appearance and lack thereof in ATLA, they were portrayed pretty consistently. For sure, they showed up at the finale but as far as we know, they were, as far as we know, absent when Sozin started the war and when the Air Nation was damn near eradicated. I say that to say, what if the White Lotus has always been this way but picks its spots to act when they see fit OR perhaps they’ve changed based on who the principal leaders were. I think there could be a whole other story to tell about the White Lotus’ crisis of leadership and how they became the organization we know now. Even then, we may see some unlikely parallels between Iroh and Ayunerak in why they both don’t use the White Lotus as a more active arm for positive change. (If Iroh was a Grand Lotus, presumably, he could have stepped up to stop Ozai sooner.)

    And on the note of not exploring Yangchen’s character more, I agree that we don’t get to see all she is as a person but I also kind of loved it. We don’t really get to see the larger questions that previous Avatar gangs allow us to see. But in a way, it holds up the image of Yangchen as this deity-like figure not only to the world after her but also to the reader. She’s so submerged in the political machinations and we don’t really get to see who she is outside of these larger plans. At the very least, not until the end of the book. And when you think about it, it makes sense. When she lost her sister, it’s like Yangchen as an individual took a step back to Yangchen as the Avatar and not until they are reunited do we get that view of her. And that’s devastating and it’s complicated and in a way it’s the struggle of her Avatarhood. Sure, I would have loved to know more, but that I’m unable to is also a microcosm of the fact that she is unable to know more as well given how much her world needs her to plan and engage in the world politics. That’s her legacy, no? In that way, it makes me feel even closer to the Avatar universe where, even with the limited context of how she acted as an Avatar in the comics and the two books, I’ll never really know her and thus I can revere her as the world’s and generations after her do.

  2. Excellent points all around, and they make me look back on the book in a different light! I am writing an article about the book for Tor, and I think your points are helpful in shaping that piece. Stay tuned!

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