Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

Series note: this is the second book in the Mangoverse series, following the events of The Second Mango, but the plot stands alone.

Climbing the Date Palm

Aviva was not surprised, only annoyed, when a strange horse interrupted her walk home from Market and tried to nose its greedy way into her purchased bag of malabar spinach; the surprise came a moment later when she realised that sprawled across its back was a very attractive, well-dressed young man who seemed near death.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “My goodness, Horse, what stall were you shopping at?”

But beneath the askew pile of hair, the talk of nonsense, and the constant turmeric stains beat the heart of a woman who had tended to a sick mother and then a sick sweetheart for nearly all her young life. Slipping into the caregiving role to which she was accustomed — or as she thought of it, God’s purpose for her — she put a finger to the man’s temple and saw that he yet lived.

When an injured young man turns up at Queen Shulamit’s door, she would be forgiven for imagining it’s just an unfortunate coincidence — but the man is a prince from a neighbouring kingdom, and he has actually travelled across the country in search of Riv, the captain of Shula’s guard. Prince Kaveh is on a mission to rescue his beloved, Farzin, an engineer who has been thrown in prison for supporting workers in their demand for fair wages. Rivka is actually a woman, but she lives as a man to protect her warrior reputation, meaning that to the outside world her commitment to a man looks like a gay relationship: hence Kaveh’s belief that (s)he is the one most likely to help him.

The books in the Mangoverse series are quick, light reads with guaranteed happy endings — but there’s always a serious moral message underlying the story, too. In this case, there are several issues brought to the fore. There’s the workers’ campaign for fair pay and conditions; there’s the victimisation Kaveh faces for being bisexual; there’s the continuing thread of Riv’s need to disguise herself as a man in order to live the life she chooses. There’s a fresh twist to Queen Shulamit’s relationship with her life partner, Aviva, as Shula realises she needs an heir to inherit her throne, and that she’ll need a man’s help to get pregnant.

Perhaps my favourite aspect, though, is the way that the team work to secure Farzin’s release — with an emphasis on finding a peaceful solution rather than going to war. Even though it’s clearly a war they could win, with Shula’s superior forces and Riv’s strategic guidance, the Queen is intent on finding a method of resolution that comes from the mind rather than the sword.

I really love the way that Glassman’s books revolve around a group of characters working together towards a common goal, each bringing their own particular strengths to bear, and this is a great example.

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