Summary: Last Gate of the Emperor
Last Gate of the Emperor is a middle grade Afro-futuristic sci-fi novel co-written by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen. Yared Heywat lives in Addis Prime, a rundown reimagined Ethiopian city. Although Addis Prime is light years ahead of our current tech scene, it still has remarkable technology, from holovids (which allow holograms of kids to attend classes, instead of the actual kids) to sky sailing transportation. However, several unreasonable rules seem to stifle more than they protect the people. Plus, no one ever believes the stories Yared tells about a long-lost city in the sky named Axum — stories his uncle Moti shared with him.
Yared is a frequent competitor in an augmented reality game set in the city, sometimes ditching school — much to Uncle Moti’s chagrin. But just when he seems to be getting the upper hand, the game rules change and Yared has to sign in using his real name. Halfway through the game Yared is suddenly being pursued by real-life law enforcement simply for being Yared. Forced to join forces with his rival, a girl called the Ibis, Yared and his pet bionic lioness have to get to the bottom of the attack and in the process learn some shocking information about Yared’s identity.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I tend to stay away from the fantasy/sci-fi genre. I do prefer my contemporary fiction and like to remain rooted in what’s real. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It did take me a while to adjust to the world-building and get a clear vision of Addis Prime in my mind, but once I was there, things moved on rather quickly.
I really liked the protagonist, Yared. His story is inspired by co-author Prince Joel Makonnen who is the great-grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie I, but Yared is a character all of his own. He is quick-witted, clever, and occasionally a bit too smart-mouthed. Yet, having grown up without parents, he handles himself well and I loved seeing him work together with the Ibis.
Another highlight for me was Yared’s bionic lioness (which I thought was a brilliant idea) and although she never speaks, readers definitely get a sense of Besa’s personality. This is a fast-paced, adventurous story with several twists and turns, and things really pick up in the second half of the book. The technology described as well as the family dynamics make this book a vivid, compelling story.
Overall: Last Gate of the Emperor
Last gate of the Emperor is a propulsive sci-fi adventure set in an Afrofuturistic city, perfect for fans of The Black Panther‘s Wakanda. This story deftly weaves vital issues like home, belonging, and family with fast-paced action and adventure and a generous serving of humor. Readers who enjoy middle grade action and adventure stories, sci-fi, or middle grade books set in Africa will enjoy this tale and what it represents.
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I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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Have you read this book or anything by Kwame Mbalia? What did you think? What are your favorite middle grade action and adventure books?