This manga takes place somewhere in Central Asia in the 19th century.
For the most part, this first volume focuses on the daily life of the Eihon family, which has recently been joined by Amir, a young woman from a semi-nomadic tribe. Amir became part of the Eihon family after marrying Karluk, the family's youngest son.
Amir was a bit of a shock to her new family. They had been expecting someone closer to Karluk's age (he's 12 years old). At 20, Amir is less likely to bear Karluk lots of children than a younger bride. Even so, the two are married, and Amir tries to figure out her place in a new tribe that is, culturally, fairly different from the one she came from. Karluk's tribe used to be nomadic, but settled down in one spot several generations ago.
While Karluk and Amir are off looking for Karluk's uncle, whose tribe is nomadic, Amir's cousins and elder brother visit the Eihon family in order to ask for her back. They tell the Eihon family that a mistake was made, when what their tribe actually wants to do is marry Amir off to someone who will benefit them more.
This is only the first volume, but I'm already pretty sure I'm going to love this series as much as I loved Emma.
I'm willing to admit that this series might not be for everyone (although the thought brings me pain). Those looking for fast-paced action may find themselves bored by this volume. Amir's hunting skills add a little action, but a larger portion of the story is devoted to things like a child's fascination with an elderly woodworker's creations, Amir and Karluk looking for signs of Karluk's uncle, and Amir worrying about a sick Karluk.
If you're like me, though, and have a fondness for slice-of-life stories and lots and lots of character interaction that is as much about the characters' expressions, body language, and actions as it is about what they're saying, all of it made even better by gorgeous art...well, you'll probably love this.
When I first heard about this series, I was sold on it the instant I saw the name "Kaoru Mori." If this had been created by someone else, I probably would have at least read some reviews before ordering it, just to find out how the "12-year-old husband, 20-year-old bride" aspect would be handled - fortunately, Mori can be trusted not to turn that set-up into something icky. For now, at least, Amir is more like a big sister, although there are already some hints that their relationship will eventually become more.
It's clear that Amir and Karluk get along pretty well, and there are some very cute scenes involving the two of them, my favorite being the one in which a very serious, slightly drunk Karluk tells Amir that he never once wished she were younger. This was after an evening spent talking with Karluk's uncle's family, who clearly did not approve of Amir's age but never came right out and said so to her or Karluk's faces. So far, Amir seems to be taking all of this fairly well. I'll be interested to see if her age becomes even more of an issue in future volumes - from the look of things, everyone, even people from her old tribe, thinks she married at far too old an age. I wonder why she didn't marry at the usual age (15 or 16, according to Mori's afterword)?
I can't wait for the next volume, which I'm guessing will feature more scenes with Amir's family. I'm really looking forward to getting to see more of Amir's older brother - not so surprising, considering my usual tastes in characters. Right now, I think I'm mostly drawn to him for his slight resemblance to Rayek from Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest (it's the eyes and attitude). I hope future volumes don't reveal him to be a completely terrible person that I need to hate. I'm a little worried that he and the two cousins are going to attack the Eihon family and take Amir by force.
Overall, this volume is excellent, although it may be a little too slow-paced for some. Yen Press chose to release this in hardcover format, which means that it costs more than most paperback manga but will hold up to multiple rereads better (public and academic libraries, buy this please!). I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever read a right-to-left manga volume in hardcover - my hands kept wanting to hold it the way I would a hardcover read left-to-right, although I adjusted pretty quickly. The book jacket is lovely, although the spine art is so narrow that the slightest mistake in how the jacket was folded will cause misalignment - I, personally, don't mind this, since my bookshelves are too crammed to properly display anything anyway. The full-color jacket art is so pretty that it almost makes me wish the entire volume were in color, except that I think the sensory overload probably would have been too much for me.
There's a 3 page manga afterword by Kaoru Mori, in which she explains how she came up with A Bride's Story. She also includes a chart that explains characters and their relationships to one another - usually, I find this sort of thing to be redundant, but, in this case, some of the relationship details aren't always very obvious, so the chart is actually pretty helpful.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Blue Sword (book) by Robin McKinley - The main character of this book is a young woman who has recently been orphaned and sent to live with her brother, who is stationed at a remote military outpost. She is kidnapped by Corlath, the king of the local people, and taught to ride a war horse and fight, so that she can hopefully beat back the inhuman enemies that threaten both her own people and King Corlath's. Those who liked the slice-of-life aspects A Bride's Story might enjoy The Blue Sword's way of working in all kinds of details about Corlath's people's culture.
- Elfquest (graphic novel) by Wendy and Richard Pini -This series is more action-oriented than A Bride's Story has been so far, but fans of A Bride's Story may enjoy the artwork and getting to learn about the different groups of elves (depending on where they live, they have very different cultures). The series as a whole has a nice mix of action, drama, and romance. It's a little difficult and expensive to buy (particularly since I'd highly advise getting it in color, if you do get it). Happily, the entire series can be read online, legally and for free. If you click the link I've included, it will take you the page where you can read all the scanned comics.
- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (book) by Nahoko Uehashi; Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (anime TV series) - This started off as a light novel series, the first book of which was turned into an anime. I prefer the anime over the one light novel I read. In the anime and first book, Balsa, a female bodyguard, becomes Prince Chagum's protector. Several people in the royal court decide that the being that has possessed Chagum will cause a terrible drought to befall the land, so they try to kill him. Although the anime has some action, a large portion of it focuses on Chagum and Balsa living together and becoming a family. Those who enjoyed Amir and Karluk's relationship might like watching Chagum and Balsa together - in their case, the relationship becomes very much like mother and child.
- Yotsuba&! (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma - None of my recommendations so far have been slice-of-life stories, so I thought I'd add this - story-wise, it's not very similar, but I can't think of any other slice-of-life stories that would fit better. This series focuses on the everyday activities and events in the life of a strange little girl and her father. It's a very cute series with likable characters.