by Kaoru Mori; adaptation by Sheldon Drzka
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.99 US
Like the previous volume, this installment contains short stories set in the world and time period of the main story. But you don’t need to be familiar with all the rest of the series to enjoy this one; in fact, it might be a good sample if you’re curious and coming late to this great read.
The first story surprised me by being so nature-focused. A young boy and his pet squirrel go on a family picnic in the woods, but the pet is accidentally left behind when it’s time to depart. (The boy is part of the German-speaking family Emma became a maid for.)
Kaoru Mori does such an excellent job capturing the urban Victorian world that I didn’t realize that she’d also draw trees and animals equally well. Her art is a wonder in its detail and fine delineations of both culture and expression.
The next story is quite a change of pace, as the boy’s mother and father wake up together and talk in bed. They chat about meaningless topics, but the end result is intimate and even erotic in the way their hands touch and hold. Their flashbacks to their first meetings are amazing, especially the wild and powerful image of Dorothea on horseback.
A different little boy, William, is shown visiting a young prince in India in the third tale, explaining how he became such good friends with Hakim. (Frequently, when visiting England as an adult in the main series, Hakim and his harem were a source of much entertaining comic relief.) The tennis game between the two is a lovely way to develop the characters, and the pictures of Indian culture are beautiful.
Next, we see a different kind of world when two housemaids go shopping on their day off. They’ve carefully saved their pennies and must select their purchases cautiously, all the while dreaming of small luxuries outside their reach. The author’s propensity for research makes the details of what’s available for sale quite illuminating.
The last piece is a touching two-parter, an unrelated story of three opera singers, their dreams, and the choices they make in order to live an artistic life. After that comes some short author’s notes about the stories. Overall, this is a charming volume with a nice range of material and story styles, all wonderfully illustrated.