by Kaoru Mori; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Yen Press; $16.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
The book’s bride is the 20-year-old Amir Halgal. She is from a semi-nomadic tribe in central Asia near the Caspian Sea. The groom, Karluk Eihon, is from a small town in the same region. He is 12. The newlyweds live with Karluk’s extended family, as does a Western man, doing research.
Let’s discuss what will make readers most uncomfortable first, the age disparity. Kaoru Mori admits in the afterword that the normal marrying age for the time and the culture is 15 or 16 years old, so this age difference is significant even within the world of the story. Furthermore, Mori has chosen not to alleviate the reader’s unease by giving an explanation for why the families paired up these two people.
Obviously, the age difference is meant to create dramatic and emotional possibilities. But even knowing these are just fictional characters doesn’t help when we see Amir eager to prove she can be a good wife by consummating their marriage. Children are important in this culture, and Amir wants to demonstrate she can give birth to many healthy children despite her age. Karluk feels intimated by her advances. The awkwardness of those moments is unsettling on a couple of levels.
This first volume doesn’t offer enough information to suggest what direction Mori will take this series. Personally, I can’t say I’m comfortable with the idea of a 12-year-old boy fathering a child, even with the support and guidance of an extended family. However, for now, I’ll withhold judgment and wait for the story to develop further.
Now, let’s talk about the wonderful characters Mori has crafted for A Bride’s Story. Amir is a strong, capable, and very humble woman. I’m as impressed as the Eihon family at Amir’s abilities. She is skilled with a bow and can hunt from horseback. She is also an excellent cook and seamstress. She’s an amazing woman, and I sympathize with Karluk for being intimated by her.
However, even with all her abilities, Amir is very insecure. She knows that many people consider her past her prime as a wife. She wants to show her in-laws that she can be a productive member of the family. She wants Karluk to know she can be a good wife. Her desire for acceptance is heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to wish all the best for her.
Karluk is the youngest child of his family. Mori tells us that in this culture, Karluk will be the one to inherit his parent’s property instead of the oldest male. He’s quiet and seems a bit overwhelmed to not just find himself married, but married to a woman similar in age to his oldest sister. Like Amir, he feels insecure. Amir is a fully developed woman, while he is still developing. He doesn’t know if he can be the man Amir needs in many ways.
I give credit to Karluk for being smart/wise enough to want to take his time and get to know Amir. It would be easy for someone his age to cover up his insecurities with bravado. I’m hoping in future volumes we will see how Karluk’s father is preparing him to take over the family wealth. For now, Karluk is a bit of an enigma, and I’d like to get to know him better.
Mori has done a spectacular job with her research. Her love of 19th century central Asian culture is obvious. It’s not just getting the clothes right, which she does beautifully. She has studied all aspects of the culture. For example, there is a great discussion on how houses are built. Beyond city life, she also gives us a glimpse into the life of nomads when Karluk and Amir go to visit his uncle. Mori brings this time, place, and people alive marvelously.
A Bride’s Story is absolutely gorgeous. The art is lavish with details: the clothes, the rugs, the jewelry, etc. It’s all lovingly drawn. I find myself lingering on the page just soaking in art. (I have to wonder how many assistants it takes to produce this series.) Mori’s realistic artwork will make this book very accessible to a Western audience. I will warn people there is some brief nudity, but it’s very tasteful and appropriate to the story.
A quick word about the book itself. Yen Press did a marvelous job. It’s a hardcover with a beautiful dust jacket, worth every penny of its price. I hope this series sells well. I would love to see more hardcover manga.
Despite my reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed A Bride’s Story and look forward to seeing volume two. Mori has crafted another wonderful historical romance. Fans of her previous series, Emma, will be pleased to know that Mori has maintained her high quality of art and storytelling. All comics fans, regardless of medium or genre preference, should check out A Bride’s Story.