In this action-packed middle grade scifi adventure, “Last Gate of the Emperor,” by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, a young adventurous boy with a mischievous streak a mile wide ditches school to play an augmented reality game to try to win money to make his and his uncle’s life a bit easier. He and his Uncle Moti live on Addis Prime, and they have moved often and struggled to survive on the many jobs that Uncle Moti can get. Yared doesn’t know what happened to his parents, and his uncle tells him stories about civilizations under attack and trains him in sword play and battle strategies. It’s certainly a strange life, and Yared is determined to make it better by winning big in the game.
But when the game rules change in the most important game of the year, called “The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk,” and Yared must give his real name and not a made-up handle, things almost immediately get weird. Soldiers invade the marketplace where the game is taking place, and a monster appears and destroys much of the floating market.
In the meantime, Yared has been partnered with his rival, The Ibis, who is the only other player who is as talented as Yared at playing. When it turns out that the soldiers and the monster are looking for Yared, he and The Ibis and Yared’s mechanical cat Besa must escape and find his uncle. They hope that Uncle Moti will have answers about what is going on. And he does, but it’s not anything that Yared expected, and the two kids and the cat must travel to another world to try to save their planet. Because of the first person narrative, we are privy to Yared’s innermost thoughts as he and The Ibis race to save the world.
Kids will probably love the exotic-sounding food and the inventive technology. The food is Ethiopian and includes yasa tibs, tej, and sambusas. There is also plenty of tech jargon, and we read about hovercans and skysails and a world that is dark and repressive. Residents of Addis Prime aren’t allowed to fly high, and the Authority is in control. What Yared finds out is that the stories his uncle told him are not just stories, and that his uncle might not be his uncle after all.
It’s a rollicking adventure with humor and bravery and a loyal metallic cat-turned-lion. Perfect for reluctant readers and those who enjoy Star Wars adventures, it also has lessons about the importance of family and friends. Classroom teachers will definitely want this to be part of their classroom library and school libraries will probably find this book checked out nonstop.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Scholastic Books, the publisher, for review purposes.