October 21, 2016

Bride's Story Volume 1 (2008)

In the late 19th century, a 20 year-old woman named Amir has been pushed into an arranged marriage with a nearby family along the edge of the Caspian Sea. Placed into a new community with a distinctively different culture to her own, Amir must adjust not only to a new lifestyle but to her new husband Karluk - who is only twelve years old.

Bride's Story is a historical romance manga written and illustrated by the noted manga creator Kaoru Mori. It started in 2008 and has run through eight volumes to date. In 2014 the series was awarded the prestigious Manga Taisho award, after running second back in 2011. Going by its first volume it is a remarkable work, not just in terms of its strong character writing and warm-heated tone but also in terms of its exceptional art, and the careful and honest manner in which it approaches the rather unorthodox and worrying arranged marriage at its centre. There is some discomfort in recommending people read a manga about an adult marrying a child, but Kaoru Mori has done a fantastic job with this. It is one of the most entertaining manga series I have read in some time.

I cannot properly comment on the series' historical accuracy or authenticity. Certainly going by the designs and the tone, it feels very true to 19th century life in what would probably be contemporary Kazakhstan. The clothing and housing are both impeccably detailed and intricately drawn, and the small details in terms of customs, food preparation and gender roles all illuminate a richly developed and believable world.

At the book's centre is a gentle and upbeat relationship between newlyweds Amir and Karluk. No one is under any illusions of the difficulty and inappropriateness of their marriage. She was handed over as part of a family-to-family negotiation, and she certainly wasn't expecting to marry a child and Karluk's family certainly weren't expecting a bride already 20 years old. Their relationship, which is in its early stages here, is a rather charming one. She acts a little like a mother to her husband, but really more of a big sister. He does his best to be responsible and act like the adult he's suddenly been thrust into becoming, but really he remains a child.

Each of the chapters are fairly episodic, but collectively work to build the back story and characters in a steady way. It is a rather gentle, relaxed read, which actually allows the readers to spend time appreciating Mori's artwork.

The series has come handsomely packaged by Hachette's Yen Press is a series of hardcover volumes, which certainly makes it feel more prestigious a release than the usual paperback manga translation. Based on this first volume it deserves the luxury treatment. I will certainly be back to read the second.

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