The series A Bride’s Story represents “life on the nineteenth-century Silk Road,” according to the publisher’s blurb. The reader travels with an English researcher, Henry Smith, a bespectacled nice guy who asks awkward questions and takes copious notes in his journals. This allows the story to move from village to village, depicting different and widely-varied lifestyles, including farming, artisan, nomadic, and fishing communities.
As the title indicates, the main focus of each story arc is a woman who is to be married, her wedding, and how the marriage proceeds. In volume 5, irrepressible twins Laila and Leily—who came to terms with the marriages their father negotiated for them in volume four—have trouble getting through the day of their wedding. The whole village bustles with manifold preparations, but brides are not allowed to watch the activities, dance, talk, or even eat; they are expected to sit still. The grooms, Sarmaan and Farsami, have their own difficulties as they try to help their brides endure the process. In doing so, each couple establishes the beginnings of the wedded relationship to come.
A Bride’s Story depicts historical, non-North American culture in a realistic manner, which includes elements that may be disturbing to some. This justifies the Older Teen rating for a slice-of-life series that is otherwise mild. In this volume, two pairs of teenagers no older than 16 enter into a marriage negotiated by their fathers, which they accept based on pragmatic principles instead of romantic ones. The latter half of the book revisits a couple featured in volumes 1-3: Amir is 20 years old and her husband Karluk is only 12, but the two share a bed and a kiss. During the wedding preparations, children are taught adult tasks, such as butchering sheep. There are also prescribed gender roles and some religious references are made.
Mori’s artwork is tremendously detailed yet easy on the eyes. The richness of detail lies in such things as textiles and animals, leaving the backgrounds uncluttered. The reading experience is rather like watching a film: the page doesn’t feel busy, but the reader will notice the different embroidery patterns on layers of clothing or the flexed muscles of a goat as it climbs up a cliff. Much of the story’s emotion is communicated through the facial expressions and body language of the characters or the “cinematography” of the scene, rather than text or direct conversation.
I think the best thing about A Bride’s Story is that there is no deliberate, self-conscious emphasis on the differences between the culture that is being portrayed and modern North American or Japanese culture. Its people exist in their own place and time. There is no didactic frame that condescends to the reader by explaining the society’s customs and values or how to interpret a particular scene. Necessary information is given in context within the narrative for the reader to catch if they can. Therefore, if you feel that you don’t understand a character or their actions, the experience is similar to an interaction with a real person in a real setting—discomfort and all. I think readers who enjoy people-watching would enjoy this series, as well as fans of historical fiction. It is beautiful, thoughtful, and lovingly crafted.