The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen. Scholastic, 2021. 9781338665857
Format: ARC (5/21 pub date)
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Science fiction
What did you like about the book? The engaging cover portends an exciting sci-fi adventure, and the book definitely delivers one that will appeal to a wide audience. Yared is a rascally 12 year old who loves the augmented reality game that he plays with friends under the table. He lives with his Uncle Moti, his only family, along with his bionic lioness companion Besa, in the bustling metropolis of Addis Prime. I love the authors’ concept of this galactic Afro-futurist world, with “orbitals,” floating neighborhoods, farms and marketplaces, cool transportation via “skysails” and bionic creatures, all framed by Ethiopian history and culture. It’s a really inventive mashup of a warm, rich history with the new, tech future.
Pretty quickly Yared finds himself under attack by the legendary and feared Werari, and he must team up with his gaming nemesis the Ibis, a tech-genius kid his age, to figure out why he is being pursued, why Besa has been programmed with ultra-advanced mapping technology, and where the heck his Uncle Moti has gone. Why does it seem like all the ancient folktales Moti told him about Addis Prime seem to be coming to life? And is Moti really his Uncle?!
This is a break-neck sci-fi adventure with a great pairing: Yared, a boy who is a sensitive, loving strategist who grieves the family he never knew, and the Ibis, a girl tech genius who makes all of Yared’s ideas come to fruition. There are lots of powerful women and Besa, as a bionic pet/guardian, is a wonderful sidekick.
The collaboration between Mbalia and Makonnen, who is actually the great-grandson of Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia, has produced a dynamite story. I am pleased that it is a stand-alone title, although I would love to see more with this universe as the backdrop.
Anything you didn’t like about it? As a language lover, I would have loved a guide or glossary on which of the many non-English terms are from Amharic or other languages spoken in Ethiopia, or a combination of made up words and real language, or both.
To whom would you recommend this book? For middle grade fantasy and sci-fi fans, especially those who loved Mbalia’s Tristan Strong series.
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’re a sci-fi fan, then yes.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: May 4, 2021