Whisked away to the Emperor’s palace for a reunion of all the major players (or, more often than not, pawns) in the ambitious monarch’s court, Soah finally (!!) accepts that Mui and Haebek are the same being and realizes that he has only ever thought himself in love with her because he believed her to be the reincarnation of his dearly beloved late first wife, Nakbin…who has recently resurfaced in the flesh and reclaimed his heart. Luckily, he has also mysteriously forgotten Soah, saving her from his deadly wrath at both her conscious (she was a secret last-minute substitute for the elder’s original selection of sacrificial bride) and unconscious subterfuge. At least, that’s what bitter Soah thinks has happened. In reality, the coldly plotting Emperor of the gods has for years been manipulating just about everyone into believing or committing one falsehood after another. Counter measures are undertaken by certain parties, but who knows if even they are as in control of the situation as they believe?
These four volumes present the same positives and negatives as their predecessors as the melodrama deepens, pasts are glimpsed, and characters’ lives become increasingly unraveled and intertwined.
While Bride of the Water God‘s story itself is intriguing and complex, the deciphering of it again requires a lot of reader effort and patience. I enjoy a good sticky web of a tale full of plots and counter plots, and this certainly fits that bill. But figuring out how all those strands connect to one another–and holding onto the pattern in your head as new information is added–is something of a challenge, due in part to its shallowly piecemeal telling and, largely, to the beautiful but ultimately unhelpful art.
Every character in this tale wears a mask of one nature or another, some just more literal than others. Unfortunately, their motives for doing so are usually as obscure to the reader as to one another. Whether from the rigid formality of their courtly society or from Yun’s stylistic habits, their behavioral and verbal detachment causes them to play their cards so close to their chests that they give away almost nothing about their motivations, intentions, or emotions, resulting in many frustratingly unrevealing encounters and conversations. The reader has to take characters at their word when they do express something, having no other evidence to corroborate it. In such an environment, Soah, understandably, doesn’t know who to trust; but she, herself, offers little reason for others to trust her.
Visually, the backgrounds are lush and detailed, the lovely, richly-clad figures the same, but lack of variation in line width and perspective, heavy use of screentones, extremely limited emotional expression, and that very same high detail can also make the pretty panels busy, flat, and difficult to decipher. The often blank-faced characters, in particular, are very hard to tell apart without some major concentration and page-flipping to remind yourself who has what hair-do or which facial tattoo (this is a title that would have been greatly improved with the regular inclusion of a character guide with their images and various names and titles). This is only exacerbated by the fact that, as Snow mentions in her review of the first five volumes, the dialogue bubbles are often confusingly placed or unassigned, making it difficult to identify their sources. And as Yun jumps around in time and location without much warning, she leaves you to struggle with new names and faces as well as younger versions of supposedly familiar ones while trying to figure out how the past relates to the present.
Bride of the Water God‘s ornately detailed visuals, obstructed romance, and political intrigue can be compelling enough to maintain reader interest–but only if you don’t mind either being perpetually a little lost or having to put in a good deal of mental elbow grease. Dark Horse’s website suggests a readership of 12 and up, but the attention required and the minimal violence (mostly involving swords, some fatally so) may nudge that more towards the “and up.”
Bride of the Water God, vol. 6-9
by Mi-Kyung Yun
Vol. 6 ISBN: 9781595826053
Vol. 7 ISBN: 9781595826688
Vol. 8 ISBN: 9781595826879
Vol. 9 ISBN: 9781595826886
Dark Horse, 2011-2012
Publisher Age Rating: 12+