I think it is nice that Kaoru Mori’s manga inspires special treatment. The editions of Emma from CMX featured matte paper stock that gave the volumes an old timey feel. A Bride’s Story gets the deluxe treatment from Yen Press, with the first volume arriving as an over sized hardback with a lovely wraparound illustration on the dust jacket. The painstaking research, sympathetic characters, and lovely detailed illustrations that readers enjoyed in Emma are in full effect in A Bride’s Story, with the bonus of a heroine who enjoys hunting rabbits from horseback with a bow.
The story takes place along the Silk Road in the 19th century. Amir is twenty years old, and she’s sent to marry a twelve year old boy named Karluk. Amir comes from a more nomadic tribe than Karluk’s family, with the result that she brings with her some skills that her new family hasn’t possessed in awhile. Amir seems anxious to fit into her new place, trying to be helpful whenever possible and she seems to be waiting for her new husband to grow up. Evidently twenty years is an unforgivably old age for a bride, and the backstory behind the marriage isn’t shown. Karluk is an uncommonly calm twelve year old, who seems to take his responsibilities very seriously. He jumps at the chance to try to locate his uncle’s clan of shepherds, wanting to be reintroduced to his relatives as a married man.
I’d always thought that Mori’s slice of life stories are particularly good at portraying children and how they negotiate the world. Rostam, the youngest member of the household, becomes fascinated with the local woodcarver and he neglects his chores to observe him. This gives Mori the excuse to showcase some dazzling panels of woodcarving patters, as well as showing the reactions of Rostam’s family. His mother sends him to bed without dinner, then tasks Amir with sneaking him food later. When it is clear that this is a general pattern of Rostam getting punishments that his mother immediately regrets, Amir declines to participate. She’s nervous and wants to please her new family, but when they start discussing rabbit stew she seizes the opportunity to grab her bow (part of her dowry) and race off on her horse to hunt.
A Bride’s Story would be plenty entertaining if it just showcased Mori’s research and charming illustrations, but she decides to introduce a note of suspense when it seems like Amir’s family has started to regret sending her off to marry Karluck. Amir gets an unexpected ally when the matriarch of the family (an enjoyable example of the kick-ass grandma character that often appears in manga) decides to defend the new bride. Karluck’s grandmother received a bow with her dowry too! With publishers going out of business and series going out of print or left unfinished, I’ve been feeling a little less enthused about manga lately. Reading A Bride’s Story has reminded me about the possibilities for storytelling unique to manga, and I’m happy to find a great new series to read.