The Olive Conspiracy – Shira Glassman

Book four in the Mangoverse series (I reviewed book two, Climbing the Date Palm, here) represents a marked improvement in Glassman’s writing skills. I didn’t see the ending twist coming and had my feelings skillfully manipulated. This review will not contain spoilers.

Queen Shulamit’s ex-crush Carolina has recently inherited the throne of her own country, and almost immediately, plagues fall upon Shulamit’s country’s agriculture. Is Carolina behind what is clearly intentional sabotage?
To get the bad stuff out of the way: the economic structure of Carolina’s country, a huge factor in the plot, was not terribly clear beyond “stratified society where workers can be physically abused”. I feel like this structure could have been more detailed or more subtly shown.

Also, I noticed that Glassman’s descriptions can be vague, eg telling you that customers in a restaurant chatted noisily instead of showing you eg an absorbing card game and a lovers’ quarrel among patrons. Specificity of detail is what I missed.

The good, however, far outweighed the bad.

Where the villain in Date Palm was a greedy and repressive ruler, the antagonist in this book had much more complicated motivations. In fact, they were my favorite character, even though their positive actions are balanced out by the evil they do, so Shulamit is clearly in the right.

Glassman also resists the temptation to exalt Shulamit’s current happy partnership by denigrating her previous crush–there are good reasons she ended up with her wife instead of Carolina, but her feelings as a teen are also granted respect.

The common thread of these is the increased complexity of characterization and the recognition of competing goods, always a great narrative technique.

Two emotionally powerful scenes stuck out: the burning of an olive grove to slow the blight, watched by the unhappy farmers, and Shulamit’s and Carolina’s big scene together at the end.

I look forward to what Glassman does next.

Climbing the Date Palm – Shira Glassman

This is a short and sweet novel with an opera connection.

Queen Shulamit and her girlfriend, the cook Aviva, need a solution to prevent the lesbian queen from having to marry a man in order to conceive a legitimate heir. Prince Kaveh of a neighboring country needs someone to get his boyfriend out of jail, where he’s scheduled to be executed for standing up to Kaveh’s father, the king, in a labor dispute. They come to a mutually beneficial arrangement– Kaveh will be Shulamit’s husband-in-name-only, and Shulamit will rescue his boyfriend.

As you can probably guess from the names and synopsis, this is a queer fantasy novel where most of the characters are Jewish. It’s published by the small press Prizm, the YA imprint of Torquere, which will be publishing my Walking on Knives. Shira Glassman mentioned that the plot was very loosely inspired by the Verdi opera/Schiller play Don Carlos (in which a tyrannical king kills his son’s best friend). That happens to be my favorite opera and my favorite play, so of course I had to check it out.

I liked the characterizations, with the main characters having flaws that made them more lovable than if they were perfect (eg Shulamit is a worrier, Kaveh tends toward hysterics, but both of them try to overcome their flaws). There was a lot of emphasis on the dignity and importance of work, whether it be the initial labor dispute over wage theft or Kaveh learning from Aviva how to cook as a way to be useful and avoid being overcome by his emotions. Also, though this is book two in a series, I was able to understand it easily without having read the first book.22677590-_uy200_

On to the not-so-good: this book really could have used another line-edit, as many sentences had very awkward constructions. Also, the ending, in which Kaveh’s father is convinced by his long-lost lover to release his prisoner, left me confused as to why the implications were not more deeply explored. Said long-lost love is totally aware of how the king has become a terrible person, yet agrees to marry him– I would have liked to know if this was a sacrifice on her part or if the king had some redeeming qualities. This is not even discussed.

Overall, a light and charming read.