For nearly 3,000 years, the Silk Road connected Asia with Africa and the Middle East, providing a conduit for the ancient world’s most precious commodities: silk, spices, glassware, medicine, perfume, livestock. By the nineteenth century, when A Bride’s Story takes place, the overland trade routes had been eclipsed in importance by maritime ones that linked China directly with India, Somalia, and the Mediterranean. Yet the Silk Road continued to play a vital role in bridging smaller geographical divides, as the main plot in A Bride’s Story demonstrates.
Set in Central Asia, A Bride’s Story focuses on two clans: the Halgal, a nomadic tribe whose livelihood depends on a mixture of hunting and herding, and the Eihon, farmers with a permanent homestead near the Caspian Sea. The families arrange a marriage between twenty-year-old Amir, the oldest Halgal daughter, and twelve-year-old Karluk, the future Eihon patriarch. As that age gap implies, Amir and Karluk’s union is one of political and economic expedience, designed to help the Eihon clan preserve its territory. Each family has reservations about the match: the Eihon believe that Amir is too old to bear Karluk a good-sized family, while the Halgal want to dissolve the union and betroth Amir to the leader of a neighboring tribe.
Amir and Karluk, however, seem more content with the arrangement than their elders. Given their age gap, Amir is more mother than wife to Karluk. There’s a note of urgency and purpose in Amir’s ministrations — she’s keen to prove her worth to the Eihons, especially when Karluk falls ill — but there’s also a genuine warmth and kindness in her gestures. Karluk, for his part, seems very much like a young teenager, intrigued by Amir’s beauty and charisma, but still too uncomfortable in his own skin to be physically demonstrative with her; Amir seems much keener to consummate their marriage, lest she lose her standing with the Eihon clan.
One of the great pleasures of A Bride’s Story is its strong cast of female characters. Balkirsh, the Eihon matriarch, proves Amir’s staunchest ally, fiercely rebuffing the Halgal’s efforts to reclaim Amir with a well-placed arrow. Though Balkirsh never explicitly states why she identifies with her daughter-in-law, the bow-and-arrow scene is telling, hinting at a shared cultural heritage that binds the two women. Amir, too, is a memorable character; she’s a terrific physical specimen, agile and fearless on horseback, but her true strength is her keen emotional intelligence. She accepts her new marriage without complaint, rapidly insinuating herself into the Eihon clan while preserving her own sense of self by introducing Karluk to her family’s customs.
The artwork, too, is another compelling reason to read A Bride’s Story. As she did in Emma and Shirley, Kaoru Mori pours her energy into period detail: clothing, furnishings, architecture. By far her most striking designs are the tribal costumes worn by the Eihon and the Halgal. Mori painstakingly draws embroidery, ornaments, and layers of fabric; watching Amir mount her horse, one can almost hear the swish of her skirts and the jingle of her earrings. Mori is similarly meticulous when rendering the surfaces of common household objects; she etches an intricate floral design into a silver tea set and weaves elegant, delicate patterns into the rugs that grace the walls and floors of the Eihon compound, luxuriating in the artistry with which these items were made.
At the same time, however, the Central Asian setting grants Mori greater license to make her characters move — something she rarely did in the overstuffed parlors and crowded London streets in Emma and Shirley. To be sure, Mori’s flair for staging dynamic scenes was evident in Emma, when Hakim Atawari made a show-stopping entrance astride an elephant. In A Bride’s Story, however, Mori’s active sequences are less flashy and more fluid; they feel less like dramatic stunts than an organic part of the story, helping the reader understand how physically taxing Amir and Karluk’s labors are while helping us appreciate the scale and severity of the landscape.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of volume one is just how uneventful it is. Kaoru Mori is content to let her narrative follow the rhythms of everyday life, pausing to show us a master carver in his wood shop, or a group of women cooking a meal, or a young boy tending chickens. Yet A Bride’s Story is never dull, thanks to Mori’s smart, engaging dialogue; as she demonstrated in Emma and Shirley, Mori can make even the simplest moments revealing, whether her characters are preparing a manor house for the master’s return or discussing the merits of rabbit stew. By allowing her story to unfold in such a naturalistic fashion, A Bride’s Story manages to be both intimate and expansive, giving us a taste of what it might have been like to live along the Silk Road in the nineteenth century. Highly recommended.
A BRIDE’S STORY, VOL. 1 • BY KAORU MORI • YEN PRESS • 192 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)
Ryan saysMay 24, 2011 at 7:15 pm
Just from the first panrl, I’m sold. What beautiful art! I think I’ll have to buy the Yen Press version for me and the original Japanese version for my mother in law (I get to talk manga with my in laws! Such a lucky chap!)
Katherine Dacey saysMay 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm
I get to talk manga with my in laws!
Could I invite them to my next BBQ and pretend they’re related to me?
Seriously, though, A Bride’s Story is one of the best-looking manga I’ve read in ages. I hope folks aren’t put off by the slightly higher price tag, as I think the hardcovers and the dust jacket seem like the right way to go with such a lovely series.
LG saysMay 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm
Mine is in the mail! I’m sure you’ll understand when I say this, but I wish I had been reading it instead of your review. All your review did was make me want it more. Crossing my fingers that it’s in my mailbox tomorrow.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm
No offense taken — frankly, I’d rather be re-reading the book than reviewing it!
Noura saysMay 25, 2011 at 12:27 am
Great review! I so want to get my hands on the book now! Unfortunately, it is yet to be available at my bookstore and so I might have to wait a bit more.
As always, Kaoru Mori’s art style is gorgeous. I loved her Emma a lot but this looks even more promising. I like that the bride is older than the groom and it would be interesting to see how their relationship develop into something more in the upcoming volumes.
Hopefully I will be able to find the book at the bookstore this weekend.
Logan saysMay 25, 2011 at 4:31 am
I have not been this excited for a manga ever. It sounds a looks beautiful from your review — I can’t wait to tear open the box and start reading when it arrives tomorrow!
LG saysMay 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm
Same here – this is the only manga I have ever bought where I saw that it would be hardcover and a slightly higher price (although, really, what I paid wasn’t that much higher than many paperback manga releases) and just said “eh,” got excited about how good it would probably look, and ordered it. It had the name “Kaoru Mori” on it, so it was basically an autobuy. I missed out on buying Emma and Shirley, I don’t want to find myself doing OOP shopping for this one, too.
shannon saysMay 25, 2011 at 8:27 am
I have it, and it’s lovely. I now want all of emma!
Aaron saysMay 25, 2011 at 10:23 am
Read it was really impressed by the art but I just didn’t care for it I respect the effort and attention to detail put into it I just dont like it. I guess this joins the list of titles I don’t really like that others absolutelly love such as Cross Game and Twin Spica oh well.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm
We all have a series or two like that — for me, Bakuman is currently at the top of my list of Manga That Everyone Else Seems to Like But Me. I’m a historian by training, so A Bride’s Story is right in my wheelhouse; if I step back and look at it more objectively, though, I can see that other folks might find it too dramatically inert for their tastes.
Manga Maniac saysMay 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm
Oh, wow, the art is beautiful. I should get my copy tomorrow – I can hardly wait to read it!
Jade Harris saysMay 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm
Gah, this release really snuck up on me. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it. I didn’t think it possible, but your review really did sell me on it even more.
Just to pick your brain a bit, I’m wondering about your thoughts on the whole marriage to a twelve year old angle. I’m assuming Mori pulls it off with plenty of class, but I’m thinking people would have more of a problem with it if Karluk was a girl or they were from more “advanced” cultures.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm
That’s an excellent question. There are a few moments of intentional awkwardness when Amir tries to encourage Karluk to behave more like her husband than her younger brother, moments that backfire because Karluk is clearly too uncomfortable with the situation to respond to Amir’s overtures. From the context, it’s pretty clear that Amir is trying to be a good wife; there is very real pressure on her to bear children, as she’s considered too old to just be getting married.
I thought Serdar Yegulalp did a better job than I did of analyzing Amir and Karluk’s relationship, so I’ll direct you to his review for a few more thoughts on how Mori handled the age difference: http://www.genjipress.com/2011/05/a-brides-story-kaoru-mori.html.
I’ll be curious to hear your take on it once you’ve read volume one!
Jade Harris saysMay 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm
Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been lucky to get a 28.8 connection on my dinosaur connection lately.
Thanks for the link. Honestly, I liked your analysis of the relationship. From reading reactions, it seems like the focus is well-geared towards the politics of the relationship more than any intent of Amir to have a genuine relationship with or take advantage of a young boy. It seems more about the dramatic twists of fate that led to this scenario where, in contrast, that Blood Alone book you covered seems more about the actual relationship.
“This is reinforced all the more in the last chapter, where Karluk falls ill and Amir works herself into a lather trying to care for him — as much out of the fear of disapproval by her adoptive family, it seems, than the fear of losing her new groom.” – I could see another book, like Blood Alone, playing up the the doting sister/mother/wife romance angle with much less focus on the outside…umm…catalysts and repercussions and end up kind of squicky.
llj saysMay 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm
Started on it last night. At this point in her career, a ‘signature’ style is beginning to emerge in her work. For one thing, she’s an incredibly obsessive artist, going WAY beyond what’s necessary to flesh out the visual details of her settings. I love that about her. The other thing is her tendency to stray from the narrative in order to depict the day to day activities of her characters. Again, that’s now a signature Mori touch and she draws these scenes with such gusto, it’s hard to really fault her for it. Some see this as a storytelling flaw, but I don’t. Many comics are already concerned with moving their narrative along, so it’s nice to see an artist that slows down and show what the characters do between the plot points.
Honestly, she could probably draw a manga about grass growing and I’d still buy it.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm
Honestly, she could probably draw a manga about grass growing and I’d still buy it.
Oh, me too — her ability to re-create other places and times is astonishing. There’s something pleasantly old-fashioned about the idea that you might learn more about someone from watching them work than listening to them tell you about themselves. I wish more manga-ka approached character development the way Mori does!
Russell Phillips saysMay 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm
Frankly, you had me at Kaoru Mori.
lovelyduckie saysMay 31, 2011 at 1:20 pm
I pre-ordered it as soon as I realized who the mangaka was :) I love her art style
Katherine Dacey saysJune 1, 2011 at 8:07 pm
I would read a Tokyo phone book if it were illustrated by Mori. Just sayin’.
lovelyduckie saysJune 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm
I like this series a lot. I prefer this heroine to every other Kaoru character I’ve encountered so far. From Emma to be honest my favorite character was relatively minor, it was that German woman that Emma went to work for at one point. My favorite chapter in the whole series is the side story talking about her past and how she met her husband.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 13, 2011 at 7:30 pm
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels that way about Kaoru Mori’s manga! I adored Emma and Shirley, but, like you, liked some of the secondary female characters better than the leads. Amir, however, is a much stronger, more memorable character, and I’m looking forward to learning more about her past.
Ada saysJuly 12, 2011 at 10:40 pm
is there a place where i can read this online? i read somewhere that the thirteenth volume is already out, but my bookstore does not have anything other than the first volume. i am anxious to continue reading, as i swear this is the BEST. MANGA. EVER!!!
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 13, 2011 at 7:14 am
At the moment, there are three volumes available in Japan and one here in the US. The second volume of the English-language edition will be released in October.