Title: The Second Mango (Mangoverse #1)
Author: Shira Glassman
Genre: Fantasy, F/F, M/F, lesbian fiction, Jewish literature
Publication date: September 20, 2016 (new edition)
Length: 178 pages
Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody thinks she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.
Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.
I already knew I liked Shira Glassman’s style when I picked this up, so I anticipated enjoying the story. It’s quite different from the last one I read, which was contemporary realistic. This is pure fantasy, and it’s absolutely wonderful.
I was immediately drawn into the setting. The book begins, “Once upon a time, in a lush tropical land of agricultural riches and shining white buildings, there was a young queen who spent the night tied up in a tent, panicking.” A lot of world-building and set-up isn’t necessary. We have an instant picture of where this story is going. Everything else about the kingdom of Perach is neatly woven into the rest of the story, making it easy for readers to imagine themselves right there with Shulamit and Rivka.
The tone throughout is reminiscent of telling wide-eyed children tales of adventure by the fireside, only with a grown-up flair. I was captivated and delighted by the distinctly Jewish flavor of the storytelling. For non-Jewish readers, there’s a nice glossary of terms in the back to translate some of the words, but I found it personally unnecessary. While I did know the terms already, I think I’d have mostly been able to gather the meanings from context. Your mileage may vary.
I loved both of the point of view characters, Shulamit (the queen) and Rivka (her chosen bodyguard). They are opposites in almost every way, but they develop a deep and wonderful friendship. What makes this a somewhat unusual love story is that it isn’t between the POV characters. While Shulamit is a lesbian, Rivka is straight. This is not a “gay for you” story. I want to make that clear upfront so anyone thinking this is going to be about Rivka awakening to her true feelings won’t be disappointed when it doesn’t go that way. Instead, although there is some romance (which I won’t spoil), it’s mainly about these two women developing trust for one another. It makes a refreshing change from many romances, which focus exclusively on the love interests.
There isn’t much I could say without spoiling the story. It relies heavily on the element of surprise to be effective, and there are a couple of interesting mysteries to solve. In fact, the idea of puzzling things out to find the answer is a theme through the entire story. It’s one of the things I enjoyed most.
I absolutely loved Rivka and the way she bent gender norms without it feeling like the same old plot of a woman posing as a man. Yes, she intentionally hides her gender, as part of a culture in which she would not be accepted as a woman warrior. However, it’s done in such a clever way, and Rivka is not expected to somehow change into a delicate flower the minute she finds a man. Nor is she expected to deny her womanhood simply because she’s employed as a bodyguard. The acceptance of both women for who they are is one of the best parts of the book.
As for the romance, it was exactly the right amount for me. I like a little love story with my adventure more than I like a little adventure with my love story, so in my eyes, it was perfect. The hinted at sensuality and the mostly off-page violence fit the tone of the story nicely. Those elements are mild enough that I would feel comfortable giving this to a well-read teen, even though it’s not listed as young adult. I suggest parents preview first, as others may have a different view on the matter than I do.
I loved this so much that my first action on finishing was to go find the rest of the books in the series. I can’t wait to read them all. This book was everything I was looking for, and it was the perfect read to start my holiday vacation. Ms. Glassman has earned a place on my go-to authors list.
For a fun (and often funny) adventure, easy to love characters, and just the right touch of sweet romance, this gets 10/10 mangoes…er, fountain pens.
Shira Glassman is a bisexual Jewish violinist passionately inspired by German and French opera and Agatha Christie novels. She lives in north central Florida, where the alligators are mostly harmless because they’re too lazy to be bothered.