by Kaoru Mori; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Yen Press; $16.99 US
It’s difficult to find new ways to praise this gorgeous historical series. It’s got something for everyone. It’s beautifully drawn, exciting to read, diverse in story events, educational in its research, features a dramatic battle … there are even several nude shots for titillation.
The opening chapter brings Amir, the bride of the title, a new friend. Pariya is a talented bread maker Amir meets at the communal ovens. While Amir works to fit in with her new family and tribe, Pariya is not yet married, because of her outspokenness. Amir’s gentle, giving nature is a wonderful contrast for Pariya’s forthright encouragement, and when the two exchange gifts, Amir finds an unusual (but perfectly in keeping with her skills and character) way to respond.
The two new friends then go with Amir’s young husband Karluk and the Englishman Smith to a local mausoleum that draws visitors from far around. Smith’s interested in it for his research, but their trip is interrupted by an event that begins the main storyline of this volume: Amir’s relatives’ attempts to retake her by force. They want to give her in marriage to another tribe they need to improve relations with, and the other young women sent to that tribe have died, so there is no one else left.
That mention is a disturbing reminder of how life-and-death some choices could be in this world. The women are property, able to be handed away or recaptured by fathers, brothers, and uncles. No one’s looking out for them after their marriage takes them to another tribe unless they can bring value in a political alliance. Amir’s new family either respects her desire to stay with them (if you want to take the romantic interpretation) or feels they’re strong enough to retain their new acquisition (if you feel their motives could be political or practical), leading to a battle between the tribes when they refuse to let her be taken back.
This section of the book is a thrilling page-turner as we follow the first abuse of hospitality through the escalation of threats and the town coming together to defend against the invading horsemen with stones and sticks and slop buckets. It’s funny and yet disturbing, as the characters go for each others’ throats. It’s an exciting series of events, but it also marks a significant turning point in the relationship between Amir and Karluk, in a sequence told mostly wordlessly in a followup chapter. It’s a challenge to the reader to bring their own emotional interpretation to the actions shown.
Kaoru Mori’s luscious art puts the reader directly into this exotic historical culture of nomad herders. Her eye for detail is particularly important in the later chapters, exploring the embroidered textiles that serve as both dowry and family record. These beautiful art pieces are compared to the letters Smith receives from his far-distant family members, both marking relationships. Since the cloth expectations are high, girls work on their embroidery from a young age, so that they have enough of the goods to make them desirable brides when the time comes to marry. The patterns used establish connections across generations, as well as demonstrating the personalities of the artists creating them, while the act of sewing is something the women do together, building community.
The adorably illustrated author’s notes at the back cover some of the customs Mori writes about in the story. She also hints that she wants to follow anthropologist Mr. Smith off on his travels instead of sticking around with Amir, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the third book when it comes out next spring.