Title: Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Synopsis: 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 smart mouth, 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.
Rating: 3 Stars
I didn’t know anything about this book before getting into it but the mix of African and Ethiopian fantasy was something I haven’t read much of and was interested to see. We are introduced to Yared Heywat who lives on a planet called Addis Prime with his Uncle Moti and his bionic lioness Besa. Yared is an orphan and has lived with his uncle since the death of his parents, they often move around a lot which has left Yared quite isolated due the mysterious circumstances as they often find themselves living in fortified abandoned buildings and I immediately wondered why. Moti has taught Yared a lot of skills along with many tales about Addis Prime despite Yared finding the planet quite boring. Yared is your typical young boy often sneaking out to play a popular augmented reality game called The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk and one night things go very, very wrong. During his latest time in the game Yared is ranked as one of the top players when the game mysteriously resets and all the players have to start from the beginning and this time he isn’t allowed to use an alias he has to use his real name which struck me as suspicious straight away and he has to have a partner which is a problem for Yared as his only real friend is Besa. Yared ends up getting paired with a girl calling herself the Ibis and he is frequently annoyed with her mostly due to the fact that she is better than him making Yared come across a cocky and overly confident which didn’t make me like him as a character at first.
As they navigate the game together real threats begin emerging and Yared learns a lot about his family’s history and who his Uncle Moti really is. While the Meshenitai, the sworn protectors of the Emperor and Empress of Axum are ready to defend the rulers, there is a huge threat from the Werari and their monster, the Bulgu. It seems like Yared and the Ibis will have to work together with the protectors to save Addis Prime and Axum but I am not convinced a young boy will be able to do that even if he is quite intelligent. I really liked the descriptions in this book as they were really vivid especially those that take place inside of The Hunt, especially the floating market which I would love to visit. I also really enjoyed how the author utilized different writing formats in this book as it opens with an interview and the combination of the different mythologies and genres was also really unique.
The Last Gate of the Emperor has many strength and weaknesses for me though, it has some great action scenes and give us an epic adventure coupled with so outstanding technology. It also encompassed a lot of information from Ethiopian culture which was nice given the novel is also Own Voices and given that one of the authors is an actual Prince really helped the believability factor. However, I did find part of the novel difficult to understand and I didn’t really understand some of the terms and mannerisms as I am not familiar with the cultures the authors are drawing from. There is also a lot going on during these 300 pages and the length and audience choice wasn’t quite right for me. If this had been young adult or adult fantasy, the world building and characters could have been given more depth, especially the Afrofuturist world and could have incorporated a lot more cultural details that would have been helpful to have more deliberate world building. Another drawback for me was certain things needed more explanation like how Yared and his Uncle lived and some of the history of the world and the game that would make this a lot more accessible to people not familiar with the culture behind the novel.
Overall, I really enjoyed the humour, characters and world building in The Last Gate of the Emperor but it definitely needed to be expanded on more for me personally. I think for people looking for a really action packed fantasy novel this would the perfect choice as it was very quick to read and really kept me hooked as a reader, there were however, a few issues that broke the immersive experience for me like having to look up terms or cultural mannerisms that weren’t explained in detail but I would definitely give the novel a solid 3 stars although this would be more like 3.75 for me.
KWAME MBALIA is a husband, father, writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and a former pharmaceutical metrologist in that order. He is the author of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, a Coretta Scott King Honor book. He lives with his family in North Carolina. Visit him online at kwamembalia.com
PRINCE JOEL MAKONNEN is the great-grandson of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia. He is an attorney and the co-founder of Old World/New World, a media and entertainment company focused on telling powerful African stories that inspire global audiences through film, TV and books. He lives with his wife, Ariana, in Los Angeles.
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I received this review copy from Terminal Tours.