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 thinks 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.
A young queen begins to believe in her own authority and trust her heart. A seasoned warrior overcomes heartbreak. This is a light read, with no real sustained jeopardy, but definitely the place to go if you’re looking for a sweet, fluffy story about diverse people finding happiness. For me personally, reading The Second Mango was a healing experience, with the intersection of queerness and faith – even though it’s not my faith.
Also, dragons! And stone curses! The magic here is a widespread and accepted force, though perhaps more often the tool of butt-hurt entitled dudes than anyone else. Curses seem commonplace, and though I liked that the magic wasn’t set up as instantly antithetical to religion, I’d like to see more of how the two interact in the culture.
Perach is a world of comforting heat and tradition, where faith is not exclusive of queerness – something I sorely needed to read. Shulamit does experience discrimination and misunderstanding on the grounds of both her dietary requirements and her sexual preferences, but the strength of her new friendships and self-confidence means these moments are merely blips in a novel about embracing your truth, and embracing those you love without fear. I loved the fact that, although Rivka and Shulamit come from different cultural backgrounds and family experiences, they find commonality in their commitment to love – of whatever kind – and in the traditions of their faith. The villains are both (including Rivka’s past) entitled guys with privilege, and the main villain is basically a guy who’s mad because he’s been (heavy quotes) “friendzoned” so many times. I really enjoyed seeing our heroes defeat him, although I’d have liked to see more of the final confrontation on the page.
I can’t wait to read the second novel – I’m anticipating an expansion of this loving and fiercely supportive found family. This series feels like a homecoming, a safe space for anyone who’s ever felt unwelcome because of who they are. Shulamit’s first story is a quest for hope, but what she finds is so much greater.
Short people, tall people, curvy people, muscly people, plump people… Our lesbian Queen Shulamit and her love – Aviva is bisexual, but it’s not really made clear in this book. The people of Perach are brown-skinned. Shulamit has serious food intolerances which make her ill but aren’t taken seriously by most background characters – she can’t eat gluten/wheat or fowl, or even eat anything which has come into contact with them.