Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang

Read: 2 March, 2016

In The Search, we follow Zuko’s quest to find out what happened to his mother. It’s a far more personal story than The Promise, and it doesn’t tackle issues of the same magnitude. Still, it was nice to see that plotline resolved.

Unfortunately, I found it rather disappointing. Much of the plot hinges on a letter in which Zuko’s mother confesses that Zuko is not actually the Fire Lord’s son. It would be strange for his mother to put something like that in a letter when she suspected that her husband was intercepting her mail, but it would have been forgiveable for the extremely compelling choices that would come from it. What would it mean for Zuko’s identity? For his loyalty and love for his father and sister? Would he have to suppress the information to remain Fire lord and keep Azula from the title? That’s all some pretty heavy stuff, stuff that is lightly touched upon as the friends carry out their search for Zuko’s mother. Unfortunately, it all turns out to have been fake.

You see, Zuko’s mother knew her mail was being intercepted so she lied about Zuko’s parentage because… Well, we’re never really given a reason. I suppose that’s fine since complicated people doing messy things is a big part of what the series is about, but that does seem rather beyond what might be expected.

But the bigger issue for me is that it takes a way a lot of what we knew about Zuko’s mother. In the show, she always seemed to be kind, wise, and loving. Her final act was to accept exile, and never seeing her children again, to save Zuko’s life. Now, however, we find out that she just had her memory erased and got to live with her true love and have a new family. I’m all for smashing up the Angel Of The Hearth narrative for mothers, but this isn’t how it’s done.

There’s plenty that I loved about the book. The artwork is great, the dialogue is pitch-perfect, and I’m always happy to revisit these characters. But there was just so much about this story that struck the wrong note for me, and so many opportunities for it to have been something far far better.

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Other books in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series:

  1. The Lost Adventures
  2. The Promise
  3. The Search
  4. The Rift

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