Climbing the Date Palm is the second book in the Mangoverse series (The Second Mango is the first – you might want to start there) buuuut this one fits better with this month’s theme of the immigrant experience, although even that is a stretch. *beams sheepishly*
Prince Kaveh, the youngest son of the king of the City of Red Clay, is bisexual, and is completely besotted with Farzin, the engineer his father hired to oversee the improvements to the city’s roads and bridges. However, the king doesn’t share his positive feelings. After Farzin ends up at the head of the protest that ensues when the workers are only paid a third of their promised wages, he’s thrown in prison and is scheduled to be executed.
Queen Shulamit, who rules over the neighboring nation of Perach, is eager to assist the desperate prince. She, too, loves justice and has a same-sex partner. She’s also hoping Kaveh, with his royal blood, is willing to give her and her sweetheart a legitimate heir in exchange. But can she find a peaceful solution that will pacify the king next door, get his workers fairly paid, and free Farzin, or will she and her dragon-riding bodyguard Rivka have to go to war?
If the cover looks familiar that’s because the forthcoming (and fourth) book in the series was on The Cover Wars a few weeks back. FYI, every cover in the series is that pretty. (And I’m not just saying that because every cover in the series has a dragon on it.)
But down to business. Why you might like this book:
- Queen Shulamit is a book-lover with a very logical mind and a deep love for her country. She is also something of a detective.
- Shulamit’s partner (aka lover aka personal cook), Aviva, is a darling. Supportive and creative, Aviva has a solid sense of humour and two very wonderful parents. She makes good food. Aviva is the sort of woman you (or I, anyways) would like to spend time cooking with and wandering the grocery market with, for the practical side of the experience and to hear her poetic descriptions of everyday things.
- Rivka, the Captain of the Guard. She’s an earthy fighter who passes as a man because she loves being a warrior and is, thanks to her horrible uncle, afraid that if she reveals she is a woman, she won’t be respected for her skills. Shulamit and Aviva know, but that’s it. Oh, except for…
- Isaac, Rivka’s husband. A wizard who spends a lot of time in his dragon-shape. He and Rivka are northerners; although they and the people of Shulamit’s realm worship the same God, they don’t speak the same language nor practice their faith in quite the same ways. Isaac and Rivka are large, light-skinned, blond-haired, and light-eyed, whereas the Perachis are built along more delicate lines, dark-skinned, black-haired, and dark-eyed.
- To clarify on points 3 and 4, Rivka and Isaac are married, but most of the world believes that Rivka is a man (Riv), and that they are a gay couple. Rivka and Isaac are cool with this. So, more or less, is Shulamit’s court. The court may not be totally pro-LGBT, but they aren’t anti- either. Within a fairly lighthearted adventure set in a fictional realm, Glassman addresses a lot of issues, worries, difficulties, and prejudices in a lighthanded manner. Including the prejudices of a main character.
- Whereas the first book had a lesbian couple and an apparently gay couple, this second book introduces an actual gay couple, and confirms two bisexual characters. (The fourth book in the series has a trans woman; here’s hoping that there is an asexual or aromantic character in the third.) Also worth mentioning is the variety of parental reactions to their children coming out – and the fact that one set of parents in each couple is fully supportive.
- Maybe this is a good time to mention that there is a lot of body type diversity, too? Shulamit is tiny and flat-chested; Aviva is very curvy. Rivka is large and immensely muscular; Isaac is strong with a bit of a belly and a hand so scarred it can no longer close fully. Kaveh is hot as anything; his beloved, Farzin, is fat and describes his own face as ugly.
- You will like Farzin. He is funny (so many jokes, even when he is being dragged away to be executed), intelligent (he’s an engineer! who built a massive bridge!), good with people (he keeps his workers from destroying the bridge when they aren’t paid, and organizes massive protests instead), concerned with social justice (he funds the protests out of his own rapidly dwindling pocket) and dismantling hierarchy (his dinner parties, which mix social classes and education levels and bring together interesting and competent people, would be the best. Or just dinner at a pub). He’s a sweetheart, okay?
- I mean, so are the others. I just didn’t expect to like a new character in the series quite this much.
- Oh – the immigrant experience comes in because *drumroll* Kaveh flees to Perach to beg Riv to rescue Farzin; given the contrast between Shulamit’s policies in contrast with Kaveh’s father’s abhorrence of anything suggesting queerness, it is kinda hard not to read Kaveh and Farzin’s eventual move to Perach as immigration, almost as refugees, on the grounds of sexual orientation.
- If that weren’t enough, the setting is (fictional, fantasy) ancient Israel. (Or Judah.) How often, seriously, do we get fantasy novels with leading Jewish characters? much less Jewish characters with their own realms? much less have the characters going about their lives including worship (Shabbat; Passover) and have this presented as normal, for all the characters?
- My one complaint is the sex. Or, I guess, the sex drive. All the couples are all over each other all the time.
- On the other hand, there is a solid sense of humour and realism about it? As in, Aviva knows when Rivka and Isaac have been at it, because Rivka is so. darn. cocky. afterwards that Aviva rolls her eyes and is relieved when Riv saunters out of her kitchen. (Kaveh, not knowing the captain as well, doesn’t have a clue.)
- The ending felt a bit too easy in some ways, but it is so nice to see a happy ending work out so thoroughly for fictional gay couples that I shall pass over that. The political set-up for the next book is interesting; what will happen next, the way things are?
- Spoiler – big question for book 3: what happens when Kaveh finds out Rivka’s actual sex?
- Technically, this series isn’t YA, but older teens could certainly enjoy it.
- I feel like I’m underselling the humour of this series. You will probably laugh aloud at some point, and snort or snicker several times.
- Verdict: if you’re looking looking for a fun adventure novel with friends, substitute parents, dragons, princesses, warriors, real (and irritating or evil) parents, or for LGBT romance with a happy ending, try the Mangoverse series. (Start with The Second Mango.)
“Please live.” Farzin’s lips were moving but they barely made a sound. “I’d be so sad if you didn’t.”
“How can you still joke?” [Kaveh asked.]
“Because I’m still me. And even when they kill me I’ll still be me, and that means I’ll still love you. I’ll always love you.” (p. 80-81)