Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen

Publisher’s Blurb:

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime — a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family… and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and wisecracking sense of humor, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis — a game rival turned reluctant ally — Yared must search for his uncle… and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

My Take:

After reading Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, I was very excited to request this new book. I was drawn to the characters… Yared is a funny one! And Besa, I love all things robo-sidekick! Oh… I can’t forget the Ibis, the one person Yared doesn’t want to team up with, but has to. That’s a fun relationship to follow. Ha!

I also love the Afrofuturist influences and the many Ethiopian references. It’s important to point out that these allusions are not hand-fed to the reader, but are laid out in context. This will be a challenge to middle-grade readers and a good test of their comprehension skills. As an English teacher myself, I see many books with topics for middle-grade readers that may not be as challenging as they could be. This is that book.

My one piece of criticism is in the pacing.. In a middle-grade YA book about immersive video games, I would suspect there’s going to be action and the pacing of those parts of the book will be quick, but there was such a drastic change from the rest of the novel that it was distracting. I found myself able to point to the exact place where the style changed in each transition.

Overall, a good read but a mixed review because of the writing itself. A complex and wild plot, a good dose of Ethiopian folklore, yet some issues with the pacing. Yet, I’d still like to get this in the hands of some of my students to get their reaction!

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to Edelweiss, Scholastic Press, and the authors for an advanced copy for review.

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