This is the fourth in a series of books about Queen Shulamit of Perach, which began with The Second Mango.
Shulamit is a young queen, an orphan, a bookworm, a problem solver and an activist, who takes her responsibilities extremely seriously.
In ‘The Olive Conspiracy’, she grapples with an agricultural plague which appears to be part of a deliberate sabotage, navigating complex international relations and memories of her own awkward adolescence on the way.
I refer to this series as ‘my lesbian dragon books’, although (SPOILER!) the dragon isn’t actually a lesbian. They share many characteristics of the best fan fiction: they are a pure delight to read, peopled almost entirely with sympathetic characters with whom the reader can both identify and fall in love. They are optimistic, and can be read confident in the knowledge that – while terrible things do happen – everything will work out in the end.
They have a much more diverse cast of characters than are found in most mainstream fiction. The central family have Jewish beliefs and practices, which highlights for me the unspoken Christian or Christo-Pagan assumptions of the majority of modern fantasy. Other religious, cultural and ethnic groups are represented by characters from neighbouring countries. Several characters have disabilities, including war wounds and debilitating food intolerances. Gender and sexual diversity is foregrounded throughout the series: by this time we have encountered several same-sex couples, including both gay and explicitly bisexual characters, and an array of transgender characters. The books focus on a range of relationships, highlighting the central importance of friendship and of family – both biological and chosen – as well as romance.
CS Lewis once said:
‘I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.’
(from ‘CS Lewis’, by Robert Lancelyn Green)
I don’t know whether Shira Glassman will thank me for comparing her to Lewis, but my feeling is that this approach works as well for her as it did for him.
The ‘Mangoverse’ books are also in the best tradition of Young Adult writing, in that they have the capacity to appeal to both adolescents and older adults. Through both chronological progression and flashbacks, we see Shulamit grow from an awkward teenager to an assured adult. This, for me, places the series in the same category as ‘Little Women’, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or ‘Little House on the Prairie’, books which can be picked up and enjoyed by anyone from early teens onwards.