Shira Glassman is another author I was lucky to meet on Twitter; her Mangoverse books are published by the LGBT-friendly YA publishing house Prizm Books.
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.
Apparently, a visit to a bawdy house got you kidnapped.
That wasn’t entirely accurate. Queen Shulamit was sure that plenty of men went in and out of such places every night without so much as losing a hair on their heads. But a skinny woman of barely twenty — even one who had been queen of Perach for two whole months — well, that was a different story. Especially if that young queen had ditched her bodyguards and snuck out by herself.
Shulamit becomes queen of Perach much too soon, when her father dies unexpectedly. As a lesbian, the young queen is lonely — sexuality isn’t much discussed, it seems, in society as a whole, and she doesn’t know how to find more women like her. But after an unfortunate bawdy house kidnapping, she asks the warrior who rescues her to accompany her on a quest to find herself a wife.
There are a number of mainstream epic fantasy elements to be found in the Mangoverse — the plot hinges on wizards and warriors and dragons — but the setting is a lush subtropical landscape of mango trees and date palms, and the prevailing culture is Jewish. The combination is something quite special. It took me a few chapters to get used to the intersection of Judaism and fantasy, as I’m not accustomed to coming across real-world religions portrayed in secondary-world settings, but by the end of the book I’d stopped noticing every passing rabbi and Shabbat. Another unusual aspect is Shulamit’s extreme food intolerances, which is something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen portrayed in fantasy before.
Shulamit herself is young and sometimes accordingly reckless, but she’s also a studious woman with a mind that’s constantly generating fresh ideas. After her lover runs away, she considers putting out an announcement that she’s seeking a woman rather than a man, but she’s legitimately concerned that some women might not be above feigning attraction and affection for a shot at the crown. Her next thought is to investigate whether any holy women have chosen a life of celibacy to avoid marrying a man. Again, there’s logic here, even if the result is a little odd, and she sets out to see what she can discover.
Rivka, the warrior Shula recruits to accompany her, is herself something of an anomaly as women warriors are apparently unheard of. She lives as a man called Riv, her only constant companion a shapeshifting horse/dragon. Rivka has an unfortunate backstory of her own, involving a lost love and estrangement from her family who don’t believe women should fight; she’s also a little older and wiser than Shulamit, and provides a welcome voice of reason to counterbalance Shula’s wilder ideas.
This is a short, lighthearted book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The basic storyline — complete the quest to get the girl — is a standard one, but the execution is unique, and I loved the setting and characters alike.
The Second Mango is available from Amazon, along with two sequels and a couple of short stories set in the same world.