Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
I've decided to tackle A Bride's Story because the fourth volume's release is only three months away and more people should be reading it. Now, I've spoken before about A Bride's Story but hey, it's not a bad thing to keep talking about it.
Set in the Caspian Sea region in the 19th century, it follows Karluk, aged 12, and his new bride Amir, aged 20, as Amir joins his clan, the Eihon's, and their new married life together. Along the way, we realise that Amir's family wants her back and decides to do anything to get her back. We also get slowly introduced to Karluk's family through Amir's eyes. I missed Kaoru Mori's previous manga, Emma, so I wanted to pick this up from day one. While the setting is different from anything I've read before, the story simply picks you up and carries you with it.
First and foremost, the story is such a layered affair. It's about two people being newly married, that's what you tell people. But it's also about the family that lives with them, the clan they're in and the society they're all in. Initially the family, Karluk's mother and father, struggle to find common ground with Amir as she's a little unsure of herself and wants to make a good impression but she's such a gentle spirit so after some early mishaps, they treat her as part of the family. This is demonstrated completely succinctly when the Halgal clan (Amir's family) decide to get her back when another of their family who was married off dies. Their logic being that while that family member (Amir's sister) is dead, Amir is still alive. Of course, they thought the Eihon's would be a pushover and just hand Amir back. After they are rebuffed, they go away but their threats will not (note: Amir and Karluk are not present for any of this and the Eihon choose not to say it to them). They come across as seeing this as necessary for this clan's survival. It's literally nothing personal. The Eihon clan, however, see it as personal because they have received Amir into their lives, have become family to her and now her family just turns up and says "Er, sorry. We need our sister back. Deal's off." So this is an affront to them. Interesting dilemma, I think. Amir's age is constantly brought up by her new family and strangers alike (always out of earshot, you understand?) as being a hindrance to the newly-weds having a big family. I keep having to remember that this is not my world, not my morality so statements like this must be viewed in the context of the time and place it's set in.
Amir's character is different to Karluk's. While she clearly loves her husband, because he is so young, he sometimes gives the impressions that he feels she minds him like a mother. He, for his part, tries to treat her as his wife but that age gap makes his task difficult. People are always looking at him with something akin to pity which he must be able to pick up on. But then, we see him watch Amir as she does things like hunt with a bow and arrow or sing while she sews and his expression makes him look older than he is. Such little things make such a complex relationship as theirs make a smidgen bit more sense but not completely explain everything. That would ruin too much of the mystery for me.
I wanted to avoid for as long as from talking about the art in this book for fear of gushing too much about it. In a word, it is amazing. Mori's art is elegant, and moreish, as in you want more of it! The detail is costumes and patterns is great with the two page spreads being of particular note. But the little details, they are worth it. Like the old carver in the village and young Rostem, talking about carvings and houses and architectural structures (I'm paraphrasing here), we see the detail in the man's work. Or the fox that Amir tracks and kills. Just before Amir strikes, the animal snaps its head around and the detail in the creatures face is astounding. The images in the book are good enough to be photos, they are that detailed.
One warning before the end: this is a very slowly paced book. All the details I've mentioned take time to unfold, so if you're going to it looking for an instant fix, forget it because it's not here. Instead we have an excellently researched, beautifully drawn and written by a person clearly in love with her subject matter. The main characters are compelling and their world is intriguing and complex. I would put it onto any reading list.