Top positive review
Old vs. New, with nuance!
Reviewed in the United States on October 28, 2019
A wonderful middle volume to this story about the world adjusting to its new status quo!
What's happened: Since the last time we saw our heroes, they've been trying to convince a refinery that they're causing pollution and need to stop. Aang is finding his feet as an Avatar who still misses a way of life that's gone, so he's throwing himself into instructing the Air Acolytes, while Toph is charging forward into a new scene that changes the rules and embraces metalbending as the way of the future. Aang wants balance and peace, but sometimes that comes at a cost.
Confronting Toph's father at the refinery feels like a mistake. He spurns her, pretends not to recognize her, and turns away. She and Aang don't want to leave the refinery until they accomplish their mission, but now they're being confronted by the Rough Rhinos--the muscle that will handle them if they don't comply. The refinery's management just wants to start production up again after the earthquake that just hit and now these kids are making it hard. Sokka, Katara, Aang, and Toph, with the Air Acolytes, must face these guys.
Aang finds himself instructing Toph not to be so rough because the way she's taking her anger out on her opponents seems dangerous to him. She doesn't want to be talked to like she's one of his acolytes and is super offended. She tosses out a funny about "didn't you hear I invented metalbending?" when a hoodlum seems baffled when she can use a chain to trap him. Toph becomes angry when one of the Acolytes listened to Aang and stopped using heavy machinery against their opponents because it might hurt them. She believes the peaceful ways Aang is teaching them are from a world that doesn't exist anymore in a world that's changed. Once the threat is dispatched, Aang decides he's going to do what he came to do: take his Air Acolytes and celebrate the festival of Yangchen.
Yangchen was the last Air Nomad Avatar in the line before Aang. He's been having trouble communicating with her lately but this ritual should help. Unfortunately the tree he remembers incorporating into the ritual when he last did it with Monk Gyatso is now a stump. They enter a restaurant, which turns out to be owned by the good old Cabbage Guy! And he is NOT thrilled to see them, and also doubly offended that they brought their own food. (They agree to buy cabbage cookies for use of the space. Cabbage Merchant is still suspicious that something bad will happen to the cabbages because the Avatar is here.)
Meanwhile, Toph is having it out back at the refinery. Satoru, who works for his uncle there, defends his "flunky" actions by saying his uncle was there for him in a way Toph wouldn't understand. She seeks out the boss and gets in to see her dad. He again denies her and says she's not the daughter he raised. She says she can't believe he could be so blind (I didn't really like that, even though it was supposed to be said by a blind person; usually blind people aren't so find of blindness being used as a synonym for willful ignorance or obliviousness). They discuss their issues and his refusal to acknowledge her amazing contributions to training the Avatar and starting a metalbending school.
And also meanwhile, Sokka and Katara have defeated the Rough Rhinos partially through the use of ice in waterbending, and Sokka throws away a stick of dynamite that ends up exposing a secret passageway that they investigate. It's an underground mine that's been the source of the pollution and the earthquakes! But for some reason the dangerousness isn't making the workers leave. Some of them are displaced Water Tribe folks and they're pretty sullen about how things have gotten worse for them, and Katara was oblivious to it as part of the Avatar's golden team. They are forced to face dangerous conditions to make a living.
Aang finally gets to have his meal in honor of Yangchen and manages to connect with her. She explains that their connection was patchy because Aang refused to take Roku's advice that one time and now their relationship is damaged, so his relationship is damaged with the whole line. This is Yanchen's festival, though, so he can connect with her. Yangchen shows Aang a flashback with her confronting a grieving spirit that attacked the city, General Old Iron, and she had to deal with him. This spirit was very close with another spirit, Lady Tienhai, and she rejected him after he didn't approve of her closeness with and protection of humans. Then over time allowing humans to have their way with the land led to Lady Tienhai's death. So General Old Iron wants to destroy humans, leaving Avatar Yangchen to negotiate with him. They came to an agreement way back then, and the ritual of Yangchen is one of the agreements they made.
Sokka interrupts Toph's discussion with her father and demands that they order the mine workers out of the dangerous conditions. Toph's dad didn't even know about the mine until he goes down to investigate. But it's too late; disaster strikes (and the jerk in charge of the place indirectly contributes). The mine collapses. Sokka escapes with one of the Water Tribe women, but Katara and Toph and many others are trapped. Iron is pressing down on them and Toph's metalbending is all that's keeping them alive.
I LOVE that a battle between old ways and new ways isn't so simplistic as it sounds and does not involve a guided lesson to make everyone only respect one perspective more than the other. There is so much nuance here and I love that these heavy, confusing issues are being tackled by teens who have to speak truth to power.