The Bride’s Story, vol 1 & 2 by Kaori Mori (thoughts)
When I first began book blogging, back in 2007, I learned that “graphic novels” was not the euphemistic phrase I’d interpreted it as, but instead a category of books that combine art and words, like comics. Many of my favourite bloggers were big fans of graphic novels, and I enthusiastically began to the explore. Somehow over the years that enthusiasm fell by the wayside, and I haven’t picked up a graphic novel in a couple of years, at least.
Now I must admit, though, that I am not a terribly good graphic novel reader. I don’t get along well with the traditional comic style art, which means series like Fables or Sandman drive me nuts. I want the story, but I can’t get past the aesthetics. I recognise this is a personal problem, and not some cosmic failure on the part of comics (…except for the ridiculous way they draw women…that part is a definite failure…), but trying to force myself to read them doesn’t seem to work either.
I’ve had much better luck with other kinds of graphic novels, that include different types of art. In fact, I’m not sure why I stopped seeking these types of books out, as I can easily name all kinds of fabulous ones (…Aya, Castle Waiting, Bayou Love, The Arrival, Gray Horses, Pyongyang…that’s off the top of my head). They combine the visual and text mediums to add up to truly fabulous storytelling.
But manga? I tried one volume of manga awhile ago, the first of Mori’s Emma, and it made me feel almost illiterate. I couldn’t figure out which order to read the frames in, which gave me a constant feeling of being jarred. I never read comics as a kid, which might be why I was confused (I have this problem with Western comic-style graphic novels too, just not so extreme). Once again, I recognise that the problem is me, not the books, but I decided I was too old to learn new tricks and would simply have to miss out on manga.
Then my dear friend Debi and I had a library expedition last month during her Comics February. She came armed with an extensive list, and I followed her along, browsing the shelves as any book lover would. I saw Kaori Mori’s The Bride’s Story in the manga section, which reminded me that NK Jemisin (one of my favourite authors) recommended it, and I decided to get the first two volumes to try out.
And the verdict? I will definitely be seeking out the rest of the series.
It’s set in the central Asia of the 19th century, that land of steppes and silk roads, and the amount of loving detail that goes into each page creates an irresistible sense of place. I still get confused as to which order to read the frames in, but I’m getting better. Each volume includes a section that focuses on different handworks of the culture (first it was wood carving, then embroidery), which are my favourite bits. I can pore over those drawings, just wishing that they were in colour!
Now, I still have my reservations about the books. The bride in question is twenty and married to a twelve-year-old, who is drawn as very young looking, which creates some uncomfortable moments. She’s also so much of a paragon that at moments I’m tempted to roll my eyes; I don’t think we’ve come across something she’s not good at yet. ;) And generally I found the story and characters a bit more shallow than ideal. But already the second volume has added some nuance, and so I think I just need to adapt to the episodic nature of manga. And if the heroine occasionally feels idealised, I can’t fault how many female characters there are, each displaying strength in different ways. Meanwhile, the setting is certainly rich enough as it is!
If you enjoy folk culture, or get a faraway look in your eyes when you hear ‘silk roads,’ or are looking for an adventure series with a heroine instead of hero, you should give The Bride’s Story a try. If, like me, you’re new to manga, it will probably take you a volume or two to adapt to the new medium. But Mori must be winning me over: on my last library trip, the next volume wasn’t on the shelf, and I found myself quite disappointed. Good thing Debi’s did round-ups of all of the graphic novel reading done in February: the lists should keep me busy for awhile, as I rediscover this category of books!