Shira Glassman's 'The Olive Conspiracy'Book four in the Mangoverse series is a diverse and warm queer story.

This is book four in the Mangoverse series, tales set in the fantasy land of Perach. Ruled by a young lesbian queen, Shulamit, Perach’s olive groves are in trouble. A plague of insects is on the rampage and the economy of the entire nation is at risk. When it comes to light that the plague may have been deliberately started, Shulamit and her advisors and allies have to work quickly to find out who is at the bottom of the conspiracy. The trouble is, the evidence is pointing very strongly towards Shulamit’s teenage crush, Crown Princess Carolina of the neighbouring land, Imbrio.

The first book in this series brought Shulamit and her partner, Aviva, together before books two and three brought in the stories of other key characters. Book four focuses back on Shulamit, and uses the main storyline of the conspiracy to also go back in time to Shulamit’s early awakenings into her sexuality.

There’s some great diversity happening in this book, and that really stood out for me – the main character is lesbian, her bodyguard is a woman passing as a man, and the restaurant owner, Yael, who brings the early evidence of the conspiracy to Shulamit’s attention is a trans woman. Perach itself is a Jewish country, and much Jewish tradition and ceremony is referenced throughout.

Whilst the style of the book is light, some of the subject matter isn’t, and I found this quite compelling. There are some serious issues touched upon here – for example, blackmail of the trans woman to keep her birth gender a secret, biological warfare by one state against another, the trials of being a lesbian falling for a straight woman, slavery, sexism within the Royal Guard ranks. These are all meaty subjects, and as such could have been rather depressing to read. But Glassman’s style is subtle – they’re all addressed in a way that gets the message across without preaching or gloom.

The story-within-a-story of Shulamit’s past crush on Carolina was very sweetly done, and transposed delightfully with their current relationship. Other key characters, like Aviva, and Rivka (the bodyguard) and Isaac (the shape-shifting husband of Rivka) all play major roles in the story and are developed further from their appearances in the earlier books. The cultures of the two countries, Perach and Imbrio, are explored and contrasted in just the right amount of detail and depth. There’s also a nice little side story in the introduction of another lesbian couple who’ve managed to carve a life for themselves out in the countryside whilst keeping the real nature of their relationship a secret. Meeting the openly lesbian queen transforms their view of the world and how they can stand proud in it.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s written in a gentle style that flows easily, and the characters are all richly and warmly portrayed.