If you’re looking for a book for a middle grader, I have a treat for you today.
Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen could be described as Black Panther meets Ready Player One set in a mythical Ethiopia in outer space. With elements of both science fiction and fantasy, this page turning Afrofuturist tale follows a young boy named Yared as he joins the Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk – an augmented reality game that will change his life forever.
Yared lives a lonely life in the city of Addis Prime. He was raised by his nervous Uncle Moti, who moved them around a lot growing up. Uncle Moti tells him tales of an empire called Axum and war that spans the galaxy. Yared’s only friend is the bionic lioness Bessa gifted to him by his uncle when he was a small child. Despite his isolated life, Yared is a typical quick-witted kid, full of bravado.
Our story begins as Yared sneaks out of school to join The Hunt For Kaleb’s Obelisk. He learns that some of the rules have changed – not only is he required to enter his real name into the game to play, but he is also forced to partner up with his biggest rival in the game, a young girl called the Ibis. Suddenly, nothing goes according to plan, and instead of jumping to the top of the leaderboards, Yared and the Ibis find themselves in the middle of an attack on the city.
The stories Uncle Moti has been telling Yared for years seem to be coming to life, but as Yared starts putting puzzle pieces together, he realizes his Uncle has disappeared. Yared and the Ibis decide to work together to find Uncle Moti, and along the way, Yared learns that his life as he knows it may not be exactly what it seems.
I don’t want to give everything away, but I have to tell you: this book as fantastic. I can easily see this becoming a very successful series, and even having comics, cartoons, or movies. The characters are all very relatable and likable (for the most part anyway).
With nods to Prince Joel Makonnen’s childhood experiences growing up as the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, readers will learn about Ethiopia’s rich history in unexpected ways. I specifically appreciated the afterword that sheds light on that history and points out all the ways it influenced the book.
Last Gate of the Emperor is available now wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)
Kwame Mbalia is a New York Times bestselling author who lives in North Carolina with his family. Please visit his website at kwamembalia.com to learn more about him and his work.
Prince Joel Makonnen is a direct descendant of Ethiopian royalty, Co-Founder and CEO of Old World // New World, and a lawyer based in Washington DC. To learn more about him, please visit his website at princeyoel.com.
Thank you so much to Scholastic Books for sending a review copy of Last Gate of the Emperor. I can’t wait to see if the adventure continues in a sequel!