Back in 2019, our friends at Gizmodo shared the first look at F.C. Yee’s Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi. The Shadow of Kyoshi followed in 2020. Next up is Yee’s third instalment in the best-selling Chronicles of the Avatar series: The Dawn of Yangchen, and once again we’ve got a first peek at the story!
Yee wrote The Dawn of Yangchen “in consultation with” Michael Dante DiMartino, the co-creator and executive producer of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, so you know going in that it already has the official stamp of approval. Here’s a summary of the book’s events:
Yangchen’s inexperience may prove to be her greatest asset…Plagued by the voices of Avatars before her for as long as she can remember, Yangchen has not yet earned the respect felt for Avatar Szeto, her predecessor. In an era where loyalty is bought rather than earned, she has little reason to trust her counsel. When Yangchen travels to Bin-Er in the Earth Kingdom on political business, a chance encounter with an informant named Kavik leads to a wary partnership. Bin-Er is a city ruled by corrupt shang merchants who have become resentful of the mercurial Earth King and his whims. To extract themselves from his influence, the shangs have one solution in mind: a mysterious weapon of mass destruction that would place power squarely in their hands. As Yangchen and Kavik seek to thwart the shangs’ plan, their unlikely friendship deepens. But for Yangchen to chart her course as a singularly powerful Avatar, she must learn to rely on her own wisdom above all else.
And here’s a look at the full cover. The jacket illustrations are by Jung Shan Chang, and the book design is by Brenda E. Angelilli and Deena Fleming.
And finally, a glimpse of the prologue and first chapter, making their debut here on Gizmodo!
VOICES OF THE PAST
Jetsun paced down the hallway, trying to stay ahead of the screams.
The high ceilings of the Western Air Temple tended to make echoes of whispers and explosions of dropped teacups. Though the girl was back in the infirmary being watched by the elders, her cries of pain sprang from every surface, bouncing off the hard stone.
Jetsun couldn’t take it anymore and broke into a full run. Ignoring decorum, she sped past her sisters, ruffling robes, upsetting inkpots, prematurely ruining colourful sand paintings that were meant to be ruined only once they were finished. No one scolded her or gave her sharp looks in passing. They understood.
When she ran out of floor she jumped. The upside-down construction of the temple meant that despite its overall size, there was very little space to stand on, nothing connecting the spires but thin air and a three-thousand-foot drop. She didn’t have her glider. Eminently dangerous, but she could make the leap without it.
Air at her back and air against her robes gave her enough loft to land on the next tower, the one containing the Great Library. Tsering, chief caretaker of the books, waited in front of the tall shelves. The older woman’s kind eyes were edged with worry. “I saw you coming. Is it happening again?”
Jetsun nodded. “Mesose,” she said.
Tsering blew out a breath, a silent whistle of frustration. “That could be Mesose, famous scholar of the Ru Ming era. There’s a Mesose village in Hu Xin; it might have been named after a founder. Or it could just be someone called Mesose, in which case we’re stuck.”
Avatars tended to run in exalted circles. Or they elevated the people around them to fame. “It has to be the first one,” Jetsun said.
Another wail turned both their heads. The child was suffering. “Help me and it’ll go faster,” Tsering said. “Northwest corner, start with the poetry shelves, Ru with the three drops of water radical.”
They split up to search different sections of the ancient vault. Jetsun ran her eyes over labels and titles as fast as she could. Not every book fit on a shelf. Many of the tomes kept at the Western Temple were so old they were written on bamboo slips instead of paper. She passed rolled bales of text wider around than some of the pillars connecting the ceilings to the floors.
Five minutes later she emerged from the library’s depths, clutching a treatise on she didn’t know exactly what. What mattered was the author’s name.
Tsering met her by the door. “I couldn’t find any leads. You’re holding our best shot.”
“Thank you.” Jetsun sprinted back in the direction she came, the book tucked under her arm.
“Use your glider next time!” Tsering yelled.
Jetsun burst back into the infirmary. The huddle of elders parted to let her through. The girl’s thrashing had settled into dry, cavernous sobs. She pounded her fist on her pillow over and over, not the involuntary shaking of a fever but rather the deliberate motion born of a steady, all-consuming anguish that should have been beyond her eight years.
“We’ll leave you two alone,” Abbess Dagmola said. She and the rest of the nuns filed out. Too many people sometimes ruined the effect. Jetsun opened the book to a random page and began to read.
“ ‘The level of risk can be determined by elevation, nearness to the source of water, vulnerability to rapid flows, and potential economic damage,’ ” she said. Confused, she briefly turned the volume to look at the cover. A Discourse on Floodplain Management.
Why in the world do we have this book? Jetsun shook her head. It didn’t matter. “ ‘Understanding previous measures taken to mitigate the damage from flooding is essential, for they might compile danger instead of reducing it.’ ”
The girl took a shuddering gasp of air and relaxed. “Half a year and that’s as far as you’ve gotten?” she said, smiling at no one. “You have to stop taking on so many projects at once, Se-Se.”
It worked. Thank the spirits, it worked. Jetsun kept reading, ploughing through the unfamiliar concepts mechanically. “ ‘On the subject of silt deposits . . .’ ”
The first time the child went through this, they had no clue as to what was happening. The healers did their best to cool her fever and keep her as comfortable as they could. As the incidents reoccurred, her babbling, incoherent at first, started to coalesce into sentences, names, slices of conversations. The words meant nothing to her caregivers until one day they heard her talking to His Majesty the Earth King Zhoulai. A man she’d never met, who’d died three centuries ago.
Thankfully, the abbess had thought to take notes. She’d written down every intelligible scrap, and in scouring her pages she pieced together a pattern. The names. Angilirq, Praew, Yotogawa. Names from every nation.
Names of past Avatar companions.
Not every phantom the child spoke to had made it into the annals of history, and some that had were never acknowledged as having close ties to an Avatar. Jetsun could only imagine the stories lost to time, filtering through the girl, merest fragments sticking in her throat.
And the conversations were pleasant, frequently enough. She would laugh with her friends in towns that had been renamed, provinces that no longer existed. Jetsun had watched her leap from her bed and bellow at the success of legendary winter hunts, sit on the floor and meditate with someone else’s inner peace.
But occasionally she would have waking nightmares. Bouts of sorrow and rage that threatened to tear her apart. She wouldn’t mutter names but scream them as if she’d been betrayed by the universe itself.
By accident, they discovered she could sometimes be calmed by figuring out the past figure she was talking to, when it was possible, and speaking back to her from that perspective. The deeper they could dive into the role the better, like parents reading a bedtime story, doing voices and parts. Familiarity was the best balm they had, and they acted their hearts out for her.
The girl nodded off by the time Jetsun reached a chapter on the proper construction of seawalls. Tsering entered the room. No glider, Jetsun noticed. She probably wanted to see if she could still make the jump too.
“How is she?” the librarian asked.
“Better,” Jetsun said. “Who was Mesose?”
“A companion of Avatar Gun,” Tsering said, coming over to the bedside. “Skilled poet and engineer, who died in Ha’an when Gun failed to hold back a tsunami.”
Jetsun found a sour taste rising in her mouth. “Failed?” Not the choice of words she would have used for someone, Avatar or not, bravely confronting a force of nature. Ha’an still stood today as a port when it sounded like it could have been wiped off the map along with everyone who’d lived there at the time.
“It’s what’s written. After Mesose drowned, Gun disappeared for quite a while before returning to duty.”
You were grieving. If the waters that Gun fought were the same ones that killed Mesose, then both the girl and the past life raging through her might have personally witnessed their friend take their last breath before plunging below the waves. They would have searched for a body in the wreckage.
And worst of all, Jetsun thought, they would have had to struggle with the terrible question of what if I’d done things differently? What if, what if, what if? Perhaps Gun was the one who’d demanded the label of failure.
It was simply unjust. To remember the events of a single life was painful enough. Reliving dozens of lives would be . . . well, it would be like getting caught by a tsunami. Swept away by forces beyond your control.
“She’s a smart kid,” Jetsun said. “If she keeps having these visions, she’ll figure out who she is long before she turns sixteen.”
Tsering sighed. She reached out and stroked the sleeping girl’s hair, now matted with sweat.
“Oh, little Yangchen,” she said. “What are we going to do with you?”
THE FIRST STEP
At the age of eleven, Yangchen had known who she was for a while on an intellectual level, and treated her Avatarhood with a child’s seriousness at the behest of her elders. This is a very important secret, all right? Like Tsering’s custard recipe. Best not to talk about it until we figure a few more things out.
The involuntary bouts of vivid memories still occurred. The ease with which past Avatars slipped into Yangchen’s speech troubled the leaders of the Western Temple. She would eavesdrop on their discussions about her, air spouting herself under windowsills, hiding behind pillars.
“You know, we keep asking that question, what do we do with her?” she heard Jetsun say one day, sharper than she usually was with her elders. “The answer is, we’ll prevent her from hitting her head on the ground, and when the memories are over, we’ll carry on. That’s what she needs from us, so that’s what we’ll give her. Nothing more, nothing less.”
As if Yangchen needed another reason to worship her older sister. Jetsun wasn’t related to her by blood, or maybe she was in the manner of fourth or fifth cousins, but it definitely didn’t matter. The girl who cut up fruit in a stupid way but at least gave you the symmetrical pieces was your sister. The girl who showed you no mercy on the airball court and laughed in your face as she kept you scoreless was your sister. Jetsun was either the person who would listen to Yangchen cry with utmost patience, or the one who’d upset her in the first place.
So it made perfect sense that Jetsun would guide her through her first attempt at meditating into the Spirit World. A guide was an anchor as much as a pathfinder, a calling voice in the darkness. “Don’t have so many expectations,” Jetsun told a Yangchen buzzing with excitement. “Not everyone has the ability to cross between realms. You won’t be less or more of an Avatar, or an Air Nomad, or a person, if it doesn’t happen.”
“Pfft. If you did it, I can do it.” If you did it, I need to do it. To become more like you.
The older nun rolled her eyes and flicked Yangchen on the forehead where her arrow point would eventually be.
They went topside to the meadows above the cliffs of the Western Air Temple. There was no need to travel all the way to the Eastern Temple, the jumping-off point for many spiritual journeys, when they could try closer to home first. Besides, Jetsun scoffed, the extra sanctity of the Eastern Temple was more reputation and less proven truth.
In the grass was a meditation circle, a stone slab floor laid level in the earth. Five columns of rock jutted out around the circle, unevenly spaced. They looked like fingers and a thumb, the triple Air Nomad whorls at their tips the prints. Yangchen knew about this place but had always avoided it. “It feels like a giant is about to grab me.”
“Or let you go,” Jetsun said. “A hand either opens or closes. But it can’t do either of those twice in a row.”
Yangchen never knew how Jetsun managed to be so blunt and cryptic at the same time. The two of them sat in the giant’s palm, facing each other. They weren’t alone. Abbess Dagmola and Librarian Tsering had come along and relegated themselves to assistants, setting up incense, a windhorn. The abbess herself was going to ring the meditation bell. There was no hesitance by the two much older women in deferring to Jetsun as guide.
The session began. The smouldering incense was sharp and earthy, like tree resin. Yangchen could feel the overtones of the horn through her stone seat. She lost count of the bell strikes that both marked time and pointed out its meaninglessness.
She suddenly saw a bright glow through her closed eyes, as if she’d been laboring under clouds the whole time. When she opened them, the light was intense but not blinding. Colours were brighter, as if the elements themselves had been ground in a mortar and then repainted on the backing of the world. Red flowers in the meadow glowed like embers, green veins pulsed through canopying leaves the size of house roofs, and the sky was bluer than a cake of solid indigo dye.
Yangchen had performed a feat of Avatarhood. It had not happened to her involuntarily, it had not struck her down like thunder between her temples, it had not racked painfully through her limbs to damage the landscape. She’d done it. She’d done it.
Her victory. And best of all, her favourite person in the world was right there beside her to share the moment. “Huh,” Jetsun said, in one of her classic understatements. “First try.”
Yangchen wanted to laugh and leap a mile into the air. But she would maintain a cool head, just like her guide. “Maybe I only remembered how.”
“Humility isn’t more important than the truth. I think you pulled this off yourself.”
She thought her heart would burst. Over the hills of the Spirit World, a pod of great winged whales, translucent and jellylike, slowly floated through the sky. Nearby, a bouncing mushroom released a cloud of spores, which turned into twinkling fireflies.
She was struck by a question. “What do we do now?”
“That’s the beauty of it,” Jetsun said. “We don’t do anything. There is no use to the Spirit World, and therein lies the great lesson. Here, you don’t take. You don’t anticipate or plan; you don’t struggle. You don’t worry about value gained and lost. You just exist. Like a spirit.”
A pout of disappointment crossed Yangchen’s lips. “Do we have to exist in this one spot only? Can we at least explore?”
Jetsun grinned down at her. “Yes. Yes, we can.”
Yangchen took her sister’s hand and decided there was a chance she might like being the Avatar.
Adapted excerpt from the upcoming book Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Dawn of Yangchen (Chronicles of the Avatar Book 3) by F.C. Yee, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams; © 2022.
Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Dawn of Yangchen by F.C. Lee arrives July 19; you can pre-order a copy here.
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