Mwikali and the Forbidden Mask is a real page-turner by a debut author which felt fresh and exciting. Whilst being interviewed, Nguru commented, ‘I was trying to homeschool my daughter and wanted to teach her about Kenyan history but couldn’t find any stories that could capture her interest and keep her excited about learning about our history and culture…I decided I’m going to fill that gap’. The story provides a fantastic introduction to Kenyan culture, with its inclusion of traditional stories and a contemporary account of life in Nairobi from an outsider’s point of view.
The 12-year-old heroine, Mwikali, is moving to a new school in Nairobi and it quickly becomes clear that her last experience of schooling in the U.S. was far from easy. Despite her nervousness, she makes friends with her classmates Soni, Odwar and Xirsi, and her desire to live a normal life briefly feels possible. She soon finds out however that she is an Intasimi descendant from a bloodline of legendary Kenyan warriors and has been born with a special supernatural gift. Nguru shines a light on characters such as Gassara Winn, Cierume, Luanda Magere, and Syokimau, making the book an important step towards introducing children to the captivating world of Kenya’s African folklore and mythology. As a reader, I was curious about a world I knew nothing about and enjoyed spending some time researching these warriors; there are numerous places in the book which could be the starting point for children to investigate further. Readers who like stories about African fantasy like Tola Okogwu’s Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun should read Nguru’s debut and her beautifully imagined fictional world.
This is an exciting fantasy adventure that revolves around an urgent mystery to be solved and has a clever, double twist at the end. Children will benefit from reading about Mwikali’s growing self-confidence as she learns to cooperate and trust her friends. The action-packed scenes of fighting monsters contrast well with the more thoughtful time-travelling aspects of her journey to find out more about her ancestors and everyday school life in Nairobi. Mwikali is a Seer and as such can predict the future within the pictures, she draws in her sketchbook to show what will happen. She learns to harness her extraordinary powers and enters a race against time to defeat a village elder who has turned to dark magic in an effort to gain ultimate power.
A cleverly plotted, interesting story that will appeal to children in upper KS2 for a variety of reasons. I would strongly recommend this book and look forward to reading the second in Nguru’s series about the Intasimi Warriors.
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