- Title: The Second Mango
- Author: Shira Glassman
- Genre: YA Fantasy
- Format: Kindle
- Source: Own
- Reviewed by: Olga Godim
- Rating: 3 out of 5
Description: 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 think 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.
Review: I must be flaky. I started a couple of serious, classical fantasy books and couldn’t finish them. The writing in each one was superb, the themes deep, the characters developed, but I got bored. Then I started this little novel and was enchanted. It reads easily and fast, it’s charming and innocent. Despite its multiple writing flaws, I enjoyed it.
The story is supposedly YA, but I think it’s more suited for middle grade. The heroine, Queen Shulamit, is 20, according to the text, but she behaves very immature for that age, more like an innocent 14.
A kind and intelligent girl with lots of insecurities and food allergies, she is a lesbian and she is searching for someone to accept her as she is. She is paired with a female warrior Rivka, who is posing as a man. With Rivka as her bodyguard, Shulamit embarks on a journey to find a life partner – another lesbian girl who would love her.
A rather shallow goal for a fantasy quest, but the story leads these two unlikely partners on a different, tangential trip – to discover who they are.
The narration and the characters are simplistic, with no depth, reminiscent of a fairy tale, complete with a moral in the end. The world building is naïve and minimalist like a primitivism painting, but humor embroider every blatant statement, and the author’s tong-in-cheek approach to her characters and situations allows the reader to forget the imperfections of this book and concentrate on its attractive qualities.
One of those is its Jewish undertones – a rarity in the genre. The names, the cultural references, even certain words breathe Jewish, both Hebrew and Yiddish. As a Jewish writer myself, I find this refreshing and admirable.
Another asset of this book is its protagonists Shulamit and Rivka. A lesbian, idealistic girl and an older woman with a tragic past, street-smart and cynical, they make strange road companions, more sisters than anything else, as they support each other through their various adventures.
I also liked the author’s originality in both problems and solutions – nothing is as expected in this tale that surprisingly avoids most of the genre tropes.
The ending is a bit didactic and a bit smutty simultaneously. How did the author pull that off?
My one serious objection – the novel could benefit from better editing.
Overall – a cute and sweet story of women’s friendship. Recommended to fans of YA and MG fantasy. Lovers of serious epic fantasy – beware of shape-shifting dragons/horses/wizards!