Avatar-Inspired Reading Recommendations: Books for (Nearly) Every Bending Style

Let me tell you, Reactor readers… when I first pitched this article, I did not think it would be this hard to find books that felt at home within Avatar: The Last Airbender’s magic system. Yet, here I am, wracking my brain (and my home library) for picks…

I’ve settled on a handful of books that I think Avatar fans will enjoy for their connection to the show’s ethos and its magic, even if the parallels might not be immediately obvious—I had to stretch the scope a bit, pairing some books with certain bending abilities based on general vibes, while others slot very neatly into the categories of ATLA’s magic systems. Read on for book recommendations suited to each ATLA bending style, and let me know if you come up with your own suggestions along the way!

Earthbending: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy was the series that sparked this idea in the first place. In it, Orogenes can sense and control the earth using their strong sessapinae—specialized organs set near the brain and spine. The series doesn’t actually involve anyone hurling rocks through the air as Toph Beifong might. Instead, orogeny is a more scaled-up magic, allowing users to negate small earthquakes or make more considerable shifts in the earth’s geology, depending on their strength.

Broken Earth also carves out its own space by telling a story of ostracism and prejudice. Orogenes are cast out and deemed not human, despite the vital and necessary duties they perform for the “stills”—people who cannot control the Earth. Throughout the series, Jemisin walks us through a world that desperately needs Orogenes and simultaneously despises them. It’s a stark, sad, twisted reality that’s somewhat reminiscent of the situation Aang encounters in Ba Sing Se, where the powerful try to ignore or forcibly suppress anything that scares them (namely, a Hundred Year War raging just beyond the city’s walls).

Metalbending: The Mistborn Saga by Brandon Sanderson

Book cover of Misborn by Brandon Sanderson

This one is easy! In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Allomancers swallow and “burn” metals within their bodies to fuel magic abilities. Different metals can grant distinct powers to magically gifted individuals, depending on which abilities they are born with—for example, Soothers, who burn brass, are able to guide and influence other peoples’ emotions. The metallic art of feruchemy is perhaps an even better fit: Feruchemists can embed traits and attributes (like strength, speed, or memory) into metal objects that can be tapped for later use.

Waterbending: The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Book cover of The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Here’s where we firmly enter “vibe” territory: From here on out, my recommendations and pairings are based on general feel rather than strict alignment between magic systems.

You might have already noted, “Oh, this book has the word ‘water’ in its title!” and of course that’s absolutely right—but while it’s a convenient little bonus, it’s not the only reason I decided to pair the novel up with waterbending. Simon Jimenez’s novel is downright fabulous, and while I was noodling over this article, it kept springing up in my memory as a book waterbenders would likely enjoy. It has an archaic feel to it, as a tale about an ancient empire and mystical practices. It’s also a story about exploring our relationship to nature, and figuring out how to traverse a world that may not be particularly kind. The two main characters remind me of Sokka and Katara in that sense, leaving their homes and setting forth on a journey to accomplish a task much bigger than themselves.

I promise there’s lots of water in it, too, if that’s what you’re looking for!

Bloodbending: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Book cover of Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

The darker variant of waterbending deserves a nod here, and I’m going with The Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett. To tell you why would be a spoiler for the latter books in the series, so I’ll leave it at that, and hope anyone who’s intrigued will pick the series up and find out for yourself!

Firebending: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Book cover of Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Finding a literary parallel for firebending proved the most challenging, out of all four styles of bending, which surprised me. I eventually turned to the idea of the Fire Nation, a country so indoctrinated by propaganda and lies that most of its citizens believe the war waged by their leaders is simply their way of sharing their culture with the world. I then thought of Zuko and his series-long arc of self-discovery. My mind drifted to Rachel Hartman’s beautiful Tess of the Road.

Tess, our protagonist, becomes jaded by the crushing pressures of social convention and the weight of conforming to expectations placed upon her by her family. Following events and a change in circumstance (which were very much not her fault), she is effectively ostracized and forced into a role she doesn’t want. She runs away to carve her own path and find her destiny much like Prince Zuko does.

Again, the specific connections to firebending here are a bit tenuous—although Tess’ traveling companion, Pathka, can breathe fire, using it to melt and shape metal and glass, which is pretty cool—but there’s enough thematic connective tissue to make me think Tess of the Road might be a nice pick for firebending fans—it’s a book that I think Zuko would appreciate, for sure.

Airbending: The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Book cover of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

And now for a fantasy series with a magic system that fits perfectly with its corresponding bending style! In Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, there are various types and categories of magic. Here, I’m focusing on the orders of the Windrunners and the Skybreakers. Using lashings, which alter the way gravity acts on a person or object, they can essentially fly through the air and control the gravitational forces around them. It’s a great analog for airbending.

Further, the ten orders of the Knights Radiant (which include both Windrunners and Skybreakers) must swear Oaths to “unlock” their powers. In other words, magic users in The Stormlight Archive must commit to living out their ideals in order to effectively use their power. While Avatar Aang isn’t literally bound by such oaths, he lives by his creed as he strives to bring balance to the world.

Now over to you! Let me know if you have any bookbending recommendations in the comments, either because you’ve noticed parallels in the magic systems or characters’ abilities, or because there’s a certain book or series that feels like it would fit perfectly into the world of the Avatar and his crew… icon-paragraph-end

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