Life along the Silk Road – 19th-century style, imagined by and translated from a 21st-century Japanese original – moves onward west, meticulously detailed in creator Kaoru Mori’s breathtaking manga. To catch up, make sure to read the first three installments; you definitely need the back story of young love, battling clansmen, and a seemingly anachronistic British linguist named Mr. Smith to appreciate future volumes in full.
In spite of the title, volume 4 offers only a fleeting glimpse of our eponymous bride – a few panels devoted to her post-bath, as-yet unrobed, resplendent state, and her laughing assurance to the fiery, marriage-desperate Pariya (whose name seems a bit too close to ‘pariah’) that not everyone “hates” her. The headstrong, say-whatever-comes-out-of-her-mouth young woman-in-waiting just might be smitten this time around, even as she’s convinced that her temper has driven away yet another suitor. Little does she know what her potential father-in-law shares with his son after the fateful meeting: “So a girl with a bit too much energy is best.” Wise advice indeed; why settle for the boring same-old, same-old?
Marriage remains quite the hot topic throughout the rest of this energetic volume. Mr. Smith continues his journey toward Ankara, but is waylaid once more when he dozes off mid-camel stride and falls into the Aral Sea. Two water nymphs – who turn out to be outspoken twin sisters with a penchant for frolicking mischief – save the waterlogged traveler, and then insist on taking him home to their ailing grandfather when they discover he is also a doctor.
When Mr. Smith manages for fix Grandpa’s dislocated shoulder, word travels quickly and he awakes the next morning to a waiting throng of needy patients. While Mr. Smith ministers, Laila and Leily go on a double man-hunt, determined to find their soulmates among the throngs gathered from afar … even if it means risking their father’s impatient wrath for their endless shenanigans. Of course, what they seek has been right in front of them all along …
While I admit the no-holds-barred obsessions with getting hitched caused my modern sensibilities to cringe just a wee bit, I was assuaged enough with the realization that this is far from child marriage – that is, young girls sold off to skeezy old men. I fully realize that I’m two centuries removed from the social mores of 19th-century Central Asia (but then so are today’s skeezy old men who are still guilty of the evils of child marriage – some things never change, but desperately, demandingly need to and will).
In Mori’s manga world, the would-be lovers are thankfully not generations apart, but are well-matched in youthful vitality and interact as equals. And although beauty is proverbially only skin-deep, the entire series is just so stunningly presented, to not bask in Mori’s glorious panels would be overlooking quite a rollicking adventure indeed.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2013 (United States)