2018’s A Bride’s Story, Vol. 11 is the eleventh tankōbon in Kaoru Mori’s historical manga, which is titled Otoyomegatari in the original Japanese. The English translation of this volume appeared in 2019.
When last we saw English researcher Henry Smith, he was in Ankara and surprised to encounter someone he had last seen in Central Asia.
Hopelessly smitten with Smith, the multiply-widowed Talas submitted to yet another arranged marriage to a kindly widower. On discovering that his miserable bride was in love with another man, Talas’ soon-to-be former husband (the first to survive marrying her!) saw no possible course of action but to cross Asia with Talas, somehow find Smith, and reunite the couple before returning home to convince Talas’ doting mother-in-law1 that Talas died during the journey. As one does.
Reunited with Smith, it does not take long for the pair to agree to marry. Smith’s friend Hawking, charged by Smith’s family to ensure that the excessively curious Smith survives his tour, is displeased. He suspects that the Smith family will react badly to Smith’s Central Asian bride. Hawking is further annoyed that, having somehow survived Central Asia, Smith is determined to take one last trip back into a region that may well be consumed by war.
Smith survived his first foray in large part thanks to his guide, Ali. This time Smith will be assisted (at least as far as Tehran) by Hawking’s trusted associate Niklovsky. Most importantly, Smith will be accompanied by his new bride, Talas, a woman who has many practical skills.
Smith has another unexpected encounter with something he never expected to see again; the watch he discarded in Central Asia. The watch’s story is an epic tale of adventure, fate, and magic.
Another way to describe what happens to Smith’s watch: people invent outrageous lies to convince other people to purchase jewelry. Having spent all that money, the purchasers further embellish the tale. With each step, the legend grows. Somewhere in Asia is a watch people believe is a dangerously useful magical trinket that once belonged to the Russian Emperor … unless someone in the chain has invented an even loftier former owner.
There’s an interesting absence in Bride’s Story: a complete lack of erotic content, despite being all about romance. Everyone (or at least all the young people getting married) are reasonably good looking, and the various couples seem very fond of each other2 … but it is all very chaste. If there’s anything more energetic than warm hugs and the occasional kiss involved, it’s happening well offstage. The Bride’s Story is astonishingly g‑rated.
Balancing that lack is an intriguing focus on the practicalities: how, having though one means or another become married, people merge their households, how those households are managed, how daily tasks are handled, even, in one lengthy segment, a detailed treatise on 19thcentury photography. It’s very different from the usual “kiss and fade to black” approach seen in other romance-focused stories.
One has to feel sorry for poor Hawking, who has promised the Smiths that he will keep Smith alive despite lacking any real ability to do so; Smith spends most of his time hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from Hawking, doing things that are in no way designed to minimize risk to Smith.
Only two volumes to go! One wonders how the author will tie off all her plot threads.
1: Talas, having been married and widowed many times, has more than one mother-in-law but this specific one is the one who actually cares about Talas.
2: With the possible exception of the brothers Saami and Sahm. They seem less smitten with their twin brides Laila and Leily and more resigned to their inevitable fates.