Emperor of the Universe (Emperor of the Universe, 1)

Emperor of the Universe (Emperor of the Universe, 1)
Age Range
Release Date
July 02, 2019
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The launch of a hilarious space adventure trilogy for young readers by David Lubar, author of the popular Weenies Tales!

When seventh grader Nicholas V. Landrew, his beloved pet gerbil Henrietta, and a package of ground beef are beamed aboard an alien space ship, they soon find themselves on the run in a madcap chase across the universe.

Now all Nicholas wants to do is get back home before his parents find out and ground him forever, but with the Universal Police hot on his trail, that won’t be easy. Before it’s all over, Henrietta will find herself safely ensconced back in her cage, Nicholas will be crowned Emperor of the Universe, and something even more surprising will happen to the package of ground beef.

"David Lubar’s Emperor of the Universe is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for middle school!" ―Alan Gratz, bestselling author of Refugee

Editor review

1 review
Explore the universe... but make sure to text home!
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Seventh grader Nicholas V. Landrew, whose parents are touring in Australia as part of the Beagles Beetles' tribute bad, has been suspended for bringing a light saber to school. He didn't threaten anyone with it; he just wanted to hear the fantastic whooshing sound it would make in the gymnasium. He is suspended, and manages to get himself some alone time by telling the two adults who are supposed to watch him (his Aunt Lucy, who is a Marine, and his Uncle Bruce, who teaches juggling) that he is staying with the other person. Unfortunately, when he is home, his pet hamster Lucy is suddenly zapped by a strange light and disappears! He puts a pound of hamburger in the cage, and when that is also zapped, he carefully stands inside as well, and begins his wonderful and sometimes terrifying adventure! He ends up on a Craborzian ship, where he stomps on the caterpillars with tentacles that are threatening him, getting him wanted for murder, and also activates their GollyGosh! a device which grants sentience to both Henrietta and the pound of hamburger, which Nick names Jeef. When a Menmarian pirate and social media influencer named Clave takes over the ship, he helps the three escape, saying that Nick is supposed to be taken to central Klizmick to meet with the president. Nick has been chosen to lead a battle because of the Craborzi massacre, and is considered a fierce fighter. Of course, he's still just a seventh grader who wants to text his parents and find a way to get home while taking some of Clave's cargo of "scrap" gold with him! There are a lot of adventures, including being approached to obliterate the Zefinorians, meeting Morglorb, a sort of intergalactic publicist, almost getting caught on a self-destructing plante, and getting Spott, a singer, back to his home planet. When Nick is summoned by the Syndics after the death of Zril, the Emperor of the Universe, Nick is hailed as his replacement, while Jeef (who almost exploded because he was, after all, unrefrigerated ground beef) is one with the universe.

Good Points
I struggle with fantasy books at the best of times. While I read Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe (the book that inspired Lubar to write this series) back in 2002, it made no sense whatsoever to me. I do know many seventh grade boys, however, who are ENORMOUS fans, and deem it to be enlightening and worth memorizing. I am not the target audience for this book; those boys are. It is perfect for them.

The page illustrations (I think by Adam Markum) are often very helpful (I was having trouble envisioning the Craborzi), and add a bit of levity to a rather dark space adventure. This seemed like an odd choice at first, until I remembered some of the illustrated novels that my students have written. Think of John Wilson's essay Exploding Noddy. Violence to a tween is stomping Craborzi and blowing up whole planets without thinking too much about the details. The illustrations capture Nick's youthful experience perfectly, and have that feel of being penned in the back of a math notebook during study hall that will resonate with the target demographic.

There are many chapters in between the action that site back story, and this is a great way to stuff even more amusing nonsense into a book already brimming with odd characters and humorous highjinks. I wasn't quite sure which characters would become important and which wouldn't, which gave this book a distinct feeling of free fall. I'm a librarian. I read books to disect them (like the Craborzi!) and explain them. Middle grade readers read to be inspired and delighted, and will let the seemingly haphazard events and characters wash over them. I've seen other adult reviewers who complain that this isn't well written. It is, in fact, brilliantly written for a specific audience, who will delight in sentences like "smelled like a mixture of candy corn and budget-priced window cleaner" and in the fact that Jeef was produced from a Mennonite farm, so is "Holy Cow".

Now that Nick's phone can pull energy from the universe, he can talk to his gerbil, and the universe isn't going to self destruct right away, he will be able to set out to end all of the pointless the pointless wars. Readers of books like Gratz's League of Seven, O'Donnell's Space Rocks, and Wilson's Me vs. the Multiverse will want to hop back on the nearest friendly spaceship and go along for the frenetic ride.
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