I posted my non-spoiler review earlier this month, now that it is release date it is time to talk about the details of what happens in The Rift Part 1.
WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE RIFT PART 1
The Rift Part 1
You know my main thoughts on the book from my non-spoiler review so I will simply reiterate them here before discussing some key points in detail. I recommend this book, it has some nice mystery presented throughout and is a very interesting book with the much needed focus on Toph. Of the main ATLA characters she is the character in most need of a big focus, we very much are getting that here IMO. That alone I think is worth buying the book for, add Aang and air nomad teachings and everything else and you have an interesting book that is completely worth your time.
-I will start off with the thing that interested me a lot for having the least amount of set-up in Part 1. That being Katara meeting 2 girls from her tribe. One spots Katara and rushes to greet her friend who she has not seen since Katara left in Book 1, they hug and we get the reveal that she and her sister are working at the refinery that Aang and co are investigating. Katara waves to the girls sister, but is met with an annoyed stare as she ushers her sister to come back to her. I was completely intrigued when I first read this as I am all on board for a Katara side plot, that and it again adds to the mystery surrounding the factory. Why are two Southern Water Tribe girls working there, why does one of the sisters seem less than happy at seeing Katara. I would usually be critical of a plot getting so little time, but in this case I love the quick set-up. Katara has an emotional involvement in finding out about the factory in a way that is not just her supporting Aang. It has me very interested to see where it goes.
-One of the big mysteries presented at the start of the book is why either Aang cannot hear what Avatar YangChen is telling him when he sees visions of her or why YangChen cannot speak to Aang. She appears at random points throughout the book never able to speak to him, just directing him towards the refinery and apparently the pollution in a river next to the refinery, but oddly the pollution is so bad it could not possibly have been caused by the refinery which has not been operating for that long. Then the most mysterious thing happens Aang is shown a vision of this giant spirit made of metal and earth destroying a building. Aang is unsure if it is something that happened to YangChen or if it something that has yet come to pass.
It is a great set up once again as a scene soon after the first appearance of YangChen hints that the issue with communicating with her may be caused by Aang severing ties to Roku (In The Promise), it never says it specifically, but Aang does say his meditating and communicating with the past Avatars has been tougher of late.
The final YangChen mystery is the identity of the statue where the YangChen festival takes place. Aang reveals he rarely paid attention when he took part in the festival and so remembers little detail about what the festival celebrated. The festival seems to pay a lot of respect to this woman, but the identity is not revealed, the lack of an arrow is mentioned as a reason for it not being YangChen herself, but at the same time it could be her before she got her arrows. All in all, it is something that will be very interesting to see how it all comes together, a lot of little things need to be answered.
-Now lets talk about Toph. The story starts out fairly normal, Toph not immediately apparent as being a main player in this book, not until she mentions that she wants to expand her metalbending school and that she purposefully does not charge for her metalbending teaching, it has become very important to her. This comes back later when she is offered a business deal with the people who own the refinery. The cliffhanger ending shockingly reveals that if she wants this deal to happen she is going to have to deal with her father, Lao Bei Fong, who is the part owner of the refinery. Toph has had issues with her parents basically her whole life, it in many ways it is Toph's big character arc in the show, but it went unresolved. Last we saw she had Katara write and send a message opening up communication with her parents, The Promise showed that she still had not reconnected with them. So this book AT LAST addressing this key relationship is perfect for me. Part 2 will surely open with with fireworks, how will Toph handle not only seeing her father for the first time in ages, but having to deal with him as a potential business partner, how will he treat her. He has to know how integral and useful she was in ending the war and allowing his very refinery to exist, but will he still talk down to her and treat her like she is helpless. It is a great cliffhanger that has you asking the key question "What will this interaction be like come part 2!"
-Continuing about Toph, she develops a crush on the nephew of the other owner of the refinery, a young engineer named Satoru who runs the refinery while his Uncle and Lao are away. At first it is just him being in awe of her, he is in awe of all of Team Avatar especially Aang at first until he spots Toph. She enjoys that he is more interested in him than Aang (partly because of Aang and Toph's conflict over the refinery existing). She loves the idea of the refinery and the progress it shows, she appreciates his engineering even using her metalbending to fix a forklift that Sokka broke. His age is very hard to tell, given what is set up at most he is about 16/17/18. She gradually develops a crush, it really starting to show when he proposes the business idea, she misspeaks saying she would love to be in a partnership with him, but quickly corrects it to Refinery.
Satoru seems like a trustworthy character, though the mystery around the refinery and the pollution remains, Toph uses her bending to say that he is being truthful, though Aang questions if her feelings for him have made her a bit biased. She is certain he can be trusted. I am really not sure where it is going, Toph's misspeak above is the most shipping focused moment so it is still very early. I am still rooting for The Doph, though this seems like an interesting ship. It also could allow us to see a side of Toph we rarely see, when she really likes someone.
-The last thing to mention about Toph is her conflict with Aang, it may be The Rift of the title, though I get the feeling it may be done by the end of Part 1. Just because it seems like a lot of stuff for Toph to be dealing with: Her parents, Satoru, Business stuff and an argument with Aang. I also say this because this conflict gets the most time among the Toph focused things in this story. The jist of the conflict is that when Aang mentions that he does not remember all of the details of the YangChen festival and that some things are just done because that is how they are done, it hits her hard because she has been told that her whole life by her parents, the reason she was kept away from people was because of this this statement. So she is pretty against Aang and his eagerness to teach his Air Acolytes tradition. I like the conflict because Toph is just aiming her anger at her parents towards Aang, I don't think she really is against Aang keeping his culture alive (not that she says this, she just becomes uncooperative and a bit unsupportive about some things), her real issue is with her parents, the big thing with her that needs to be resolved. Aang tries to brush off Toph's insults, but soon has enough of her insults and defends his point, understandably, as the last Air Nomad he wants to keep his culture alive.
The real conflict is about their views on the refinery, Aang is investigating it as it is built on the site where the YangChen festival usually takes place and he is wondering why this happened, while Toph just sees this as progress use the land for something useful not a pointless festival (paraphrased, but her main point). A key point in the conflict is that Aang does not really get his full say in the matter, Satoru is so impressed with Toph he unintentionally ignores Aang's attempts to ask questions about why the factory was built on sacred grounds. You have a balanced conflict that is not something so serious to put their friendship in doubt, but an interesting argument about modernisation and tradition.
Toph is all for the refinery and kind of forgets about the environmental impact and what people being replaced by machines means for people. Aang never really gets to present his counter argument to what Toph is saying, but Toph seems to have placed him in the role of the person who is so traditional he does not want the world to move on. I don't think this is Aang at all, naturally he gets annoyed when he sees his culture, there is not much of it left, being destroyed and forgotten, I don't think Aang is living in the past by teaching the Air Acolytes what he knows, like Toph feels her teaching is important so does Aang, Toph's culture is not at the risk of ceasing to exist. Also Aang is not trying to have the refinery removed, he is just investigating. In the end when things start to happen in the refinery (related to the polluted river and where it leads) Toph and Aang put their differences aside to save some workers. There conflict seems to end after this when they apologise to each other while still pointing out that Aang is trying a bit to hard to hold onto the past while Toph is trying to hard to run away from it, what Toph says next for me confirms that the root of Toph's issues are with her parents and she really has no issue with Aang
"Not everybody's past is like yours, Aang. Some of us have to run away just to ...just to live."
This is a big line, it shows how hurt she is by the way her parents treat her, she can only be happy away from them and the memories. It makes the end reveal of her father all the more important, she has been running away and now she has run straight into her father, how will she handle it?
-A nice reference is that Lao and Satoru's uncle have hired The Rough Rhinos to act as guards to the refinery. Not sure if it is going anywhere, but is nice to see characters being used in unique ways like this.
So we are left with a few key questions going into Part 2
-How will Toph and her Father deal with their sudden reunion?
-Where is TophXSatoru going?
-Who is the statue of?
-What caused the pollution in the river if it was not the refinery?
-What is up with Katara's friends from the SWT?
Most of all I recommend buying and reading the book yourself, you may interpret the interactions and mysteries differently to me and the dialogue and art really do add so much more than I can say just through text here. One final thing, having got out the first review of this book I have been dying to discuss this book in detail, I cannot wait for the Avatar Online Podcast review this Sunday, where we will discuss this book page by page.