(literally Young Bride's Story
) is a seinen manga
and yet another period romance from Kaoru Mori
. This time the setting is Central Asia during the 19th century.
Set on the Silk Road that connected Asia with Europe before modern times, it is the Slice of Life
story of Amir, a nomadic tribeswoman skilled in archery and horsemanship, who is sent to marry Karluk, a boy from another village who is eight years younger than her. But all is not well: the Russians are expanding south, political unrest is brewing and her family decides to take her back...
As with all of Mori's works, the art and attention to detail is extensive, although Mori can put more effort into this particular work with less pressure, since it is a bimonthly publication.
Published in English by Yen Press
as A Bride's Story
in larger-than-usual hardcover volumes to show off Mori's artwork.
This series provides examples of:
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Karluk's sister, Seleke, is only a handful of years older than Amir but already has four children, the eldest of whom is about nine. Then again, it wasn't uncommon in her culture for girls to marry and become pregnant in their early teens. Even so, Seleke does not look like she's had four children.
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: A minor one, lampshaded in the afterword of Volume 2; getting a lot of bricks dumped over your head will still kill you, even if the bricks are only made from mud and sun-dried (not fired in a kiln).
- Accidental Marriage: Trouble twins Laila and Leili try their damnedest to invoke this by running into chosen people, wearing their headscarves loose (because touching a woman's bare head would be scandalous unless you're her husband... or marry her right away).
- Action Girl: Amir. It's actually stated that this was part of a normal education for girls where she's from. Chapter 33 drives the point firmly home when she takes out her own father, the enemy commander, single-handed.
- Accidental Hero: As part of his cover to avoid being accosted on his travels, Smith pretends to be a doctor and helps a man with his dislocated shoulder. Come morning, and everyone is convinced he's a miraculous doctor and have formed a huge crowd outside his door.
- A-Cup Angst: Anis starts to feel this way after the women at the bathhouse compare her to the much more buxom Shirin and imply her husband would like her better if she filled out. Her husband later dismisses this.
- Aloof Big Brother: Azel to Amir. And, like her, he's a gorgeous badass archer to boot.
- Arranged Marriage: The story begins with one between Amir and Karluk. They get along very well despite the fact that she's from another culture, and of course the eight year age gap. By setting default, you can safely assume every couple you see are in arranged marriages.
- Author Appeal: Obscure setting? Check. Gorgeously intricate clothing? Check. Obsessive attention to historical detail? Check. Intelligent, beautiful, and unusual female lead? Check. This is very much a Kaoru Mori manga. Mori herself stated that she's had a fascination with the period subject (pre-Russian Silk Road) since high school.
- Author Avatar: As with her previous stories, she portrays herself in the afterword as a messy haired caricature with bad manners (often screaming). She's also always eating something.
- Badass: In the female camp, we have Balkirsh and Amir, who can easily handle their own in a fight. In the male camp, we have Azel, who's so badass he must be a god of war reincarnated as a human.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Karluk stabs and pushes back out a Halgal man that had climbed in through a window to take Amir in Chapter 8. Arguably his Crowning Moment of Awesome as well.
- Amir returns the favour in Chapter 33, saving Karluk by shooting her father's horse, knocking his sword from his hand, and pinning him to the ground with it.
- Biamat and Joruk come riding back in Chapter 34 to sweep Azel, Amir and Karluk away from the horde of Badan that had surrounded them.
- Big Eater:
- The twins spend virtually their entire wedding day stuffing their faces...in secret, because the bride isn't actually allowed to eat anything during the ceremony.
- Joruk often complains about being hungry and pilfers food whenever he can.
- There's also Smith's guide, Ali. The one thing that's guaranteed to make him cease complaining is the prospect of food.
- Anis's new friend, Shirin, clears a loaded plate, as in a whole chicken, in the time Anis looks away and looks back. She also likes to eat whole watermelons by herself.
- Bishōnen: Azel and Joruk, Amir's elder brother and cousin respectively. Karluk looks to be becoming one.
- Black Widow: Subverted. Talas is a serial widow for five brothers, but she did love some of them and had no part in their deaths. Also she or her family gained no extra dowries for the "bonus" marriages.
- Boom, Headshot: A comedic variant where one of the twins' harebrained schemes involved taking out a passer-by with a headshot... using a fish. They threw it hard enough to knock him out cold.
- Buxom Is Better: Sahmi has developed a reputation for preferring women with large boobs, which embarrasses him every time one of the twins brings it up.
- Can't Have Sex, Ever: Inverted with Amir and Karluk. In their case, it's "Must Have Sex And The Sooner The Better", since Amir's relatives want her back to marry her off into a different, more powerful family, and are going as far as attacking Amir's new tribe in order to steal her. Conceiving would fix that problem, because before that happens, the marriage isn't considered to be valid... the issue is that Karluk is only twelve.
- Cheerful Child: Again, most of Karluk's nieces and nephews.
- Christmas Cake: Invoked and Discussed. Some characters mention Amir being old for a bride (she's married at 20, but her family started looking for a husband for her from the time she was 13), especially considering the eight-year age gap between her and Karluk.
- Cake Eater: Karluk states that her age doesn't bother him one bit, and in fact he wouldn't have her any other way.
- Close-Knit Community: The town where Karluk comes from.
- Completely Missing the Point:
- After Amir hunts down a fox, Karluk admits he worries she may one day run into a wolf. Her response?
Amir: Oh, for wolves you need more people, to get all of them at a shot! You can't hunt them alone!
- In the first chapter, Amir receives some cloth from her mother-in-law Sanira, which she uses to make a rabbit fur-trimmed vest for Karluk. Sanira says that she'd thought it'd be nice material for Amir to make something for herself. Amir thinks this means that Sanira thinks her current clothes are too dirty to wear, so she immediately strips down and runs off to do laundry.
- Cool Big Sis: Amir to Pariya and Karluk's niece and nephews.
- Cool Old Lady: Karluk's grandmother, Balkirsh, who drives off hostile visitors with a bow and rides a goat up a cliff to rescue a child. After the latter side-story, she's explicitly dubbed the coolest and strongest woman in the manga!note
- Costume Porn: Especially the embroidery. Dear Gods, the embroidery. This series may as well be called Costume Porn: The Manga.
- Courtly Love: Amir and Karluk, out of the very simple necessity of Karluk being twelve. Also Smith and Talas, since he is a gentleman and she a widow from a completely different culture.
- Cultural Posturing: Possibly crossed with Mugging the Monster. At least some of the nomads seem to find the Russian newcomers as little more than savages from the borderlands. Yeah, about that...
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Talas' stepfather-in-law won't allow Smith to even see her.
- Death by Despair: Talas' father-in-law, after all five of his sons died without producing offspring.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: It's Central Asia a couple of centuries back. Of course it doesn't have modern First World values.
- Determinator: Several, but especially Azel.
- Double In-Law Marriage: Deliberately invoked by the twins' father, who would prefer to get them both off his hands at the same time, and therefore marries them to a pair of brothers.
- End of an Age: It's not very obvious, but there are hints here and there of the modern world – represented by the Russians and even Mr. Smith – encroaching ever more into the local way of life. Other examples include the growing presence of bolt-action rifles, settlers and Russian-influenced fashions. Justified, due to the story taking place in the mid-19th century, not too long before the Russians conquer the area.
- Eye Patch Of Power: Amir's father, the clan chief, wears a highly decorative one.
- First Kiss: Karluk shares it with Amir.
- Food Porn:
- In Chapter 16, Mori applies her prodigious talents to all manner of food in the market, and the characters literally spend the entire chapter looking for the best food and then finally eating it in an impromptu feast. You probably should not read it while hungry.
- Chapter 4 gives us verbal Food Porn, when Joruk gets carried away, describing what kind of meal he wants to be greeted with:
"I want some mutton. Slices fresh off the grill, piled high on a plate. The really juicy kind! Some fried rice might work, too... pour soup all over it and shovel it in! Oh, that stuff's good!"
- Foregone Conclusion: Not with the story itself, but the setting. In less than 30 yearsnote , the Russians will move in, annex the area to their Empire, and start a long period of Russification. The nomads will be made to settle down and/or be forcibly relocated somewhere much less pleasant. The Aral Sea – featured prominently in the Twins' Story – will dry up and disappear from severe misuse, turning the entire area into an inhospitable desert (even more than it historically was).
- Already foreshadowed from Chapter 30 onwards, when Amir's tribe ally themselves with the Russian-aligned Badan tribe in order to raze Karluk's town, seize their land and get Amir back. Due to their links with the Russians, the Badan have ample Russian weaponry, which they promise to place at the Halgals' disposal. In the ensuing battle, the Badan betray the Halgals, seeking to seize the town and get rid of their "allies" at the same time. No doubt the Badan are doing the Russians' dirty work for them. Even though Karluk's hometown prevails, it, and the whole region, will eventually be annexed by the Russian Empire.
- Gilded Cage: Anis evidently feels this way about her luxurious home, since her husband is often absent, her baby is being raised by another woman, and she's not allowed to leave or even interact with people other than family.
- Gorgeous Period Dress
- Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have: Sanira already has a few grandchildren, but is still very beautiful. Heck, her husband even notes how good she looks for her age. He's damn right.
- Happily Ever After: The conclusion to the twins' marriage arc.
- He Is All Grown Up: Chapter 28 has Amir slowly coming to this realization, with an intercut of other women discussing how Karluk's all grown up to accentuate the moment of realization in the last page.
- Hot Springs Episode: The gratuitous scenes at the womens' bathhouse in Anis' story.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Laila and Leili's parents. While their mother is regular sized, their father is a towering, powerfully built man easily twice her size. His size/strength explicitly played part in a Rescue Romance that won his wife's affection.
- I Gave My Word: Smuggling a meal to a boy being punished is one thing, but doing so after she told him that she can't do it again is quite another.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Amir, who has no qualms about occasionally going about the house in her underwear or lounging naked in the bath for ages.
- Intimate Healing: Amir does this with her young husband during a cold night in a yurt.
- The Jailbait Wait: A variant. By his culture's standards, Karluk is a full adult at twelve, being married. Chapter 23 still has Amir wishing that he'd grow up faster as it's strongly implied that she wants to get a lot more intimate with him.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Smith's guide, Ali, who is very blunt to the point of rudeness, but is a hard-working young man nonetheless who wants to earn enough money so he can get married.
- Kick the Dog: Amir's family wants to marry her to a man who is so violent that, due to brutal treatment, he pretty much killed the two women the family previously married to him! One of whom may have been Amir's younger sister. Furthermore, they do this by trying to forcibly break Amir's already performed (even if yet unconsummated) marriage and one of them was ready to kill Karluk even if she went with them, simply so there would be no loose ends.
- Long Hair Is Feminine: As is fitting for the setting, it's said that most women never cut their hair even once in their lifetime.
- Meddling Parents: Talas' mother-in-law does everything she can to convince her to remarry, even though she's already accepted her lonely fate. Later the man Talas' mother-in-law marries in order to try and assure Talas finds a bridegroom too. He's even more meddlesome, being absolutely against hearing anything about Talas' own arrangements. Of course this is all justified seeing how going against your parents and especially the male head of your family was unthinkable for women in that time and place.
- Meet Cute: The twins Laila and Leili planned to do this on would-be suitors with their head coverings loosened. In their culture, touching a woman's uncovered head is seen as very intimate and was only allowed for those intending to marry, though it never goes right. Their inspiration for the plan was an older relative who actually managed to pull it off.
- Mr. Fanservice: Hey, remember Amir's brother, Azel? He's kinda hot, right? Now then, let's get him soaking wet and watch him strip.
- Oh, so you enjoyed that last part? Well, I guess it wouldn't be too much trouble for him to take his shirt off again. And let's give him a few bruises and bandages as well, why not?
- Never Mess with Granny: Karluk's grandmother Balkirsh fires an arrow at Azel as a warning shot when he comes to retrieve Amir and successfully bluffs him out of the village. In a side story she rides up a mountain on a goat to rescue a little boy. At the end of the chapter she is deemed the strongest and coolest woman in the whole manga. She even kills Azel's father personally, even though he's Amir's father too.
- Nice Hat: A lot of the adults have hats and headdresses, many ornate and detailed. Balkirsh's is the largest.
- Nipple and Dimed: Averted in that both men and women have visible nipples. In fact, female nipples are drawn in more detail.
- Obviously Evil: The Badan to everyone but the Halgal elders. Somehow Azel and his cousins are the only ones who aren't surprised when the Badan turn on the Halgal.
- One-Man Army: Azel on horseback. Seriously, anyone approaching him with hostile intentions while he's riding would fare better if they just slit their throats. Subverted when he's on foot though he's still hard to take down.
- Opaque Nerd Glasses: Smith has them about 99% of the time in the first two books, fittingly as he then only plays the part of a foreigner expo-magnet as a nerdy researcher. Dropped for some select scenes in the third book when he gets a more emotional plot of his own.
- Our Nudity Is Different: When Mr. Smith sees Talas with her headscarf off, she blushes and tries to cover herself and apologizes for the "shocking display".
- Parenting the Husband: Subverted. Amir thinks this is her role in regards to Karluk and seems OK with it, but he grows weary of it pretty soon and eventually gets the point across that she doesn't have to babysit him. The way he does it also has a side effect of Amir falling head over heels for him.
- The Patriarch: Karluk's grandfather Mahatbek, though being elderly he doesn't get around much and prefers to sit peacefully. Karluk's father, Akunbek, serves as one of the village elders.
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Thus far there seem to be nothing but these, although one could argue that the culture norm probably encourages unhappily arranged couples to "learn to like it" or at least keep it to themselves. However, some couples are happier than others, and Amir and Karluk are one of those.
- Pet the Dog: The normally brusque and aloof Azel tenderly wiping Amir's tears for her in Chapter 35.
- Phenotype Stereotype: Mr. Smith and the English woman sent to deliver him letters in Chapter 10 are both blond. The fact that they were both English also led some locals to believe they at least knew each other.
- Pimped-Out Dress: The day-to-day clothes are bad enough, but the wedding gowns are on another level.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Karluk's niece and nephews, Smith, and Joruk.
- Reality Ensues: In book three, Smith and Talas' sudden engagement seems to be going along the usual romantic rails, until Chapter 17. The entire chapter makes it abundantly clear how unrealistic it actually was due to the cultural differences and family ties.
- Relationship Upgrade: While Karluk and Amir are already married at the start of the story, it isn't until Karluk's Big Damn Heroes moment in Chapter 8 that Amir moves away from being more of a Cool Big Sis to Karluk and starts to see him romantically and act like a smitten young woman (and awkwardly so).
- Rescue Romance:
- Laila and Leili's mother apparently met and fell for their father after he rescued her from stormy waters by lifting her and her boat and carrying it all the way to land. As mentioned in Relationship Upgrade, this applies for Amir and Karluk as well as she only begins to view him romantically after he rescues her from her father.
- Laila and Leili also try to invoke it themselves... by knocking someone into the water so they can rescue him. Hilarity Ensues.
- Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Anis and Shirin; playing their first meeting like Love at First Sight is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Rotating Protagonist: After the second volume, the story switches from Karluk and Amir to Mr. Smith on his journey to Ankara to receive an item prepared for him. Later the focus goes back to Karluk and Amir for a while, before shifting again to Mr. Smith's arrival in Persia and introducing the wife of his host, Anis.
- Sacred Hospitality: Fitting for the period. At one point when a messenger delivers letters to Smith, many of the villagers fight over who he gets to stay with until Akunbek declares him as his guest.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Karluk is much calmer than Amir is. Laila and Leili are as Hot-Blooded as their husbands Saahman and Farsahmi are not.
- Scenery Porn
- She Cleans Up Nicely: The twins and their respective grooms have mutual moments of this in Chapter 25 when they see each other in their marriage getups.
- Shirtless Scene: Azel spends most of Chapter 29 wandering around shirtless after saving a foal from the river. Completely relevant to the plot, of course...
- Shoot the Dog: After it becomes clear that the hawk Amir has been nursing back to health will be unable to fly again, Amir and eventually Karluk conclude that this is the best course of action. They figure a life without flight, stuck in a cage fed by hand is no life for hawk. Karluk offers to do the deed, to spare Amir the pain of having to kill the animal she's been caring for.
- Shown Their Work: As usual, Mori takes this to extremes and her work is that much better for it.
- Single-Minded Twins: Laila and Leili start out as this (it's even lampshaded), however they eventually realise that when it comes to marriage they are attracted to different things in their potential grooms.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Amira or Amir? The official English translation went with Amir. This applies to a lot of the names due to the huge disconnection between Japanese and Turkic languages.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: Mr. Smith notes the astounding amount of time local women dedicate to weaving/sewing. Also see Tomboy.
- Tomboy: A number of examples:
- Amir comes from a nomadic tribe and is used to riding horses, hunting, and using a bow and arrows. Especially shooting game while on horseback. This makes her quite a tomboy when compared to the culture of her new tribe, which gave up the nomadic life and settled down a few generations back. Otherwise, she's not that tomboyish, unlike...
- Pariya, who's not interested in needlework or marriage (she prefers baking and archery instead), and has a rougher personality than most other women shown. She speaks her mind without rounding the corners and is considered too "cheeky" for most groom candidates.
- The twins Laila and Leili could count as this as well. They swim, dive, fish and climb trees on their own. They're physically strong enough to knock a man unconscious with a projectile. And they were quite averse to their mother's lessons on domestic chores and crafts.
- Theme Twin Naming
- Training from Hell: Laila and Leili get put through rigorous training by their mother so that they can be prepared for their wifely (and later motherly duties) in less than a month. This includes teaching them how to cook and clean with efficiency, medicine and health, strength training, sewing and berating them with chickens when they mess up.
- Trickster Twins: Laila and Leili are the epitome of this, though their tricks are rarely successful.
- Tsundere: Pariya, since she is naturally awkward and used to being disliked by everyone for her outspokenness, blushes furiously when she meets a suitor but then starts shouting at him the next minute. Laila and Leili as well.
- Twin Banter: Laila and Leili again. It actually serves as a real shock to them when they have a differing opinion.
- Unmoving Plaid: Averted. Not only does Mori draw the patterns on their dresses, she draws it slightly differently between different panelsnote .
- There are straight examples, however. The patterns on Saahman's and Farsahmi's clothes in Chapter 21, for example, are the same size in every frame, even if perspective and distance should make them appear smaller. These are mostly done for simpler patterns, however, as the more complex ones are the ones that get more lavish attention.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Several cases, the first being between Amir and Karluk (the latter doesn't feel ready to consummate the marriage yet), and a second with Mr. Smith and Talas.
- The Unsmile: Well, Pariya does try her best.
- Victorious Childhood Friend: Laila and Leili end up engaged to their childhood friends Saahman and Farsahmi, respectively. Played with in that both pairs of siblings are at first unenthusiastic about it as they feel like they're just settling for each other at the behest of their parents. After they go on dates to get to know their respective fiancés, however, both sisters come to like what charm the boys hide behind their usual bored expressions and each becomes convinced that they got the better catch.
- When He Smiles: The ecstatic smiles on Saahman's and Farsahmi's faces (which normally show either sarcasm or exasperation) at the end of their marriage reception in Chapter 26 actually stun the normally loud twins, now their wives, into silence.
- Wife Husbandry: Or more accurately, Husband Husbandry. Karluk is twelve when he marries Amir, and she does guide him a bit into the more romantic aspects of marriage, although most of the time it seems she is willing to wait until he grows up.
- Wise Beyond His Years: To modern sensibilities, twelve-year-old Karluk comes off as surprisingly mature for his age. In the setting, though, he's considered an adult and expected to act as such.
- Woman Child: Amir, though it's more that she's innocent (and occasionally oblivious) rather than immature.
- You All Share My Story: The "Young Bride" differs with every story arc. It started with Amir, then Talas, then Laila and Leili, and then Anis.