Sunday, January 15, 2017
REVIEW: The Second Mango (e-book) by Shira Glassman
The Second Mango is the first book in Glassman’s Mangoverse series. I’m reviewing the Torquere edition. The author has since gotten the rights back from that publisher and rereleased it, and I don’t know if the two editions differ in any way.
The Second Mango stars Shulamit, the new queen of Perach, and Rivka, a female warrior for hire who travels disguised as a man. Shulamit’s father died two months prior to the start of the story, and since then she has both been trying to deal with her grief and find herself a lover - a difficult task, since she’s a lesbian and the only other lesbian she’d ever met was Aviva, who’d been her first and only lover and who had left her without explanation. Rivka agrees to help Shulamit find a woman who might love her and who she might love in return. Their journey brings them to a temple filled with nuns who have been turned to stone by an evil sorcerer. Rivka and Shulamit are the only hope the nuns have of breaking free of their curse.
Several aspects of this book intrigued me: the Jewish fantasy setting, the lesbian main character, and Shulamit’s food sensitivities. I enjoyed Shulamit and Rivka’s discussions comparing their two cultures - they both celebrated Chanukah, for example, but associated different foods with the holiday. I didn’t understand all of the Hebrew and Yiddish words the text was peppered with, but the context usually gave me some idea of what was being said, and I googled whatever else I wanted to know more about.
As far as Shulamit’s food sensitivities went, I can’t recall ever reading something dealing with similar issues. The closest I can think of, at the moment, is C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, in which Bren, the human main character, has to be careful about what and how much he eats, because he can’t tolerate the same things his atevi hosts can. Shulamit’s biggest problems were 1) finding out which foods were the problem and 2) convincing everyone that she really did need to avoid certain foods (wheat and poultry) and that her sensitivity wasn’t just in her head or evidence that she was a spoiled princess hoping for more attention. Aviva, the person she eventually fell in love with, was the only one who believed her and made absolutely sure that her food never even touched surfaces contaminated by wheat or poultry.
I liked how sweet and fluffy the overall story was. The beginning of Shulamit and Rivka’s adventure was a lot of fun, and I particularly enjoyed the bittersweet flashback to Rivka’s earlier life, defying her uncle and gradually falling in love with Isaac, the wizard who secretly taught her swordplay.
Unfortunately, I did have a few issues with the book, mostly centered on Shulamit. It seriously bugged me that, only two months after her father’s death, Shulamit’s biggest concern wasn’t finding her footing as the new queen and ensuring her country’s continued stability, but rather running off to find herself a new lover. Shulamit herself felt a bit bad about this later on in the story, but that didn’t negate the fact that she’d done it.
Granted, she was young and sheltered, but she still came across as flightier and, well, hornier than I’d have liked. She told Rivka that she needed to join her in the search for a potential lover for her because she wanted to make sure that the woman was someone she could love in return, but I got the impression that she’d have given any pretty lesbian Rivka managed to find a shot. During the course of the story, she tried to find a potential lover at a brothel, hit on Rivka at least once, almost landed them both in a trap due to her attraction to a pretty stranger, and found herself attracted to a pretty nun in statue form. All of that, combined with my assumption that Shulamit had probably just been too focused on her own emotions to notice what was bothering Aviva enough to make her want to leave, made it difficult for me to enjoy how her romantic storyline turned out.
My other issue with the book was that the writing felt simplistic, which meshed oddly with some of the sexual content. It also made Shulamit come across as being even younger than she might actually have been. I can’t remember if her age was ever stated, but for a while there I assumed she wasn’t much older than maybe 16.
Despite my issues with the book, I’m glad I already own a collection of Mangoverse stories. I’m looking forward to reading them, especially since I already know that one of them features Rivka, my favorite character in The Second Mango.