This is a featured book for LGBTQ+ History Month.
The Second Mango is a book I picked up off of Amazon for a part of a read-a-thon challenge. This book fit a category for the read-a-thon and when I read the description, it looked very compelling in its story and also had diverse character representation. I purchased the e-book. Further the physical book is now back for purchase on Amazon with new, fantastic cover art! We start the story by meeting Queen Shulamit who inherited the throne Perach at a young age. She is also the only lesbian she knows about and after the love of her life disappears for no apparent reason, the Queen is feeling a huge sense of loss and loneliness, plus the pressure of providing a heir to the throne. Oh, and Shulamit also has severe digestive issues that no one takes seriously. By chance, Queen Shulamit meets Rivka, a warrior from the north who wears a mask to disguise herself as a man, and their adventure begins…
The story started very abruptly for me and I found myself really stumbling through the first couple of chapters. The world building in my opinion started later in the book and I think that is fine and works for this story. In the first chapter, we are immediately plunged into a dire situation with Queen Shulamit who is ultimately rescued by Rivka and her dragon/horse. From there the story unfolds pretty straightforwardly – Shulamit wants to find someone to love and asks Rivka to go with her to a temple where only women live. They journey to the temple only to find out something terrible has happened! They immediately accept the quest laid out in front of them and with little preparation go off to attempt to defeat the bad guy.
As soon as Rivka started telling her backstory, I found myself getting into the world of the Mangoverse. As I said before, I think I struggled in the first part of the book because I did not have context of the world that provided motivation for why (Rivka in particular) everyone was doing all of these things. I knew Ribka was an outcast from the north, but I did not know why. Queen Shulamit seemed more free spirited and rash when making decisions and had obvious motivations why she wanted to go on these quests. Still, some of the scenes where the two made decisions seemed void of tension.
A couple of details in the book I want to talk about. First, the spirituality in the book draws from Jewish traditions and has a very positive representation of spirituality. Most books I have read, even with made up religious systems, either draw on Christianity as a foundation or create a very stereotypical ancient religious tradition – one that is seen as primitive. Second, I appreciated the racial representation and as you can see in the new cover, Queen Shulamit is a woman of color! There is some discussion about race in the book juxtaposed with a conversation about geographical origin. I think this was a fantastic way to bring up race and promote the diverse universe without overtly calling it out with physical descriptors constantly. Third, the introduction of Queen Shulamit’s dietary restriction provides commentary on different abilities and very real (and often dismissed) digestive issues. I have not read any books that really address this and found the sub-story very refreshing and compelling. Lastly, The Second Mango does a fantastic job at representing diverse sexual orientations and explores many of the issues in the traditional fantasy paradigm the characters struggle with. For example, Queen Shulamit is expected to marry a King provide an heir to the throne; however, she does not want to marry a man. This book left that problem unresolved and I am hoping Shira Glassman revisits it in a later book. Other themes and issues explored is a sense of loneliness as a result from marginalization, gender roles, and male cishet privilege.
Overall, The Second Mango is a solid first book in a series I plan to continue. The next book, Climbing the Date Palm, is on my “very soon” to be read list. Like I previously said, the whole series just got new cover art in a new publishing run that can be purchased off of Amazon. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for diverse fantasy done well.
Final Rating: 4/5