Avatar: The Last Airbender – Dawn of Yangchen will soon be the last entry in the Avatar Chronicles franchise. Continuing to build on the world of the Four Nations, delving centuries into its past before Avatar Aang was born, the new novel is now the third book in the franchise following author FC Yee’s success with the Kyoshi novels.
In an exclusive interview, CBR spoke with Yee about the upcoming novel, anticipating its July 19 release. He compared his experience working on Dawn of Yangchen with his work on Kyoshi novels and discussed his approach to the world of Avatar both author and fan. Fans can also expect a second spoiler-filled interview to be released after the book’s release.
CBR: A lot of things have changed since you launched the Avatar Chronicles. The series didn’t even have a name when you started and Avatar Studios hadn’t been announced yet. How was the writing process of Dawn of Yangchen different from the Kyoshi novels?
FC Yee: Dawn of Yangchen was a very different experience, in that the Kyoshi the novels were now part of the source material. It was a bit anxiety-inducing to realize that Yangchen’s story would be attached to a chain that runs through another series of novels. It was a challenge to find new narrative ground to cover when the Kyoshi novels were created with no plans to write about other Avatars in the future.
The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped either. Authors and audiences evolve in their creation and their readings of texts in relation to the real world. With so much uncertainty encompassing the entire window where Yangchen’s story was written, it can sometimes be difficult to determine where the new book would put its flag. Going back to the show’s themes that resonate regardless of the outside circumstances really helped. Avatar is about selfless duty, friendship, and striving for the future (among many things).
What were some of the elements you established earlier in the series that you were eager to revisit and take in a new direction?
In my opinion, it’s always fascinating to watch the Avatars struggle with their relationship to the Avatarhood itself. It’s a position that comes with expectations, both in-universe and with the audience. Taking the office in new directions was a chance to establish that there is no such thing as a normal Avatar in the same way that you can’t say there is a normal human life experience . I think Roku is sometimes brought up as an Avatar following the expected life path of young adulthood, but that doesn’t take into account how close he grew to royalty and the baggage that would come with it.
Yangchen is a very different Avatar than Kyoshi, and his story takes place at a very different point in his journey than any Avatar seen before. Was it difficult to create compelling conflict for a fully realized Avatar?
There is always a challenge to answering the question “How will the most powerful being in the world stand up to opposition?” This usually involves different ways of narratively denying the Avatar the attributes of power that he should theoretically have. Aang was removed from his people and timeline, Korra faced rapid change, and Kyoshi received no training.
Dawn of Yangchen attempts to respond to the narrative challenge by giving it the elevated nominal status that comes with being the Avatar. But it hinders her movements and makes people treat her like a figurehead. Moreover, she is a devoted pacifist whose solution is not to immediately abandon pacifist beliefs. The conflict comes out in the book through the incredible amount of effort it takes to be an effective leader under these constraints. Yangchen is someone who understands that when people think “everything will be okay”, there are a small number of people who do a disproportionate amount of work to make sure things will be better in the future.
We also have a radically different setting, with Shang towns like Bin-Er like nowhere else Avatar fans have seen. Inasmuch as Avatar fan yourself, I imagine there’s a constant conflict between exploring an already established part of the world or building your own. What kinds of factors guide you in making these decisions?
The useful method [of] world-building is all about using parts of the show’s universe as pieces of living history, which is only possible because of the brilliant work done by the original creative team. The second book of Yangchen’s story will likely be set in Taku, which we glimpse in “The Blue Spirit” as a once prosperous town, now in decline. The show’s world-building has Taku as the location where cargo was distributed. It is not unreasonable that there are more cities like this, and the passage of time allows them to be different from what we have seen before.
Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DeMartino have been tight-lipped about what Avatar Studios has in store for fans going forward. Have you had a good idea of what these blueprints are? Are there any blood oaths you would like to betray by giving fans an idea of what to expect?
Honestly, I don’t; the novel publishing branch is a different unit. I’m as curious as the rest of the fandom!
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Dawn of Yangchen will be released on July 19.