2020’s A Bride’s Story, Vol. 13 is the thirteenth tankōbon in Kaoru Mori’s historical manga, which is titled Otoyomegatari in the original Japanese. The English translation of this volume appeared in 2022.
Mr. Smith, his new wife Talas, guide Ali, and guard Nikolovsky retrace Smith and Ali’s earlier journey across Central Asia in reverse. Old friends await, as do untoward developments.
First on the itinerary: the town by the Aral Sea, where with the enthusiastic but unhelpful encouragement of energetic twins Laila and Leily, Laila and Leily’s husbands Farsami and Sarmaan (both of whom should have “long-suffering” appended to their names) have been converting their home into an inn. The appearance of Mr. Smith and his entourage is a perfect pretext to play host.
At this point a familiar complication appears. Once again, the twins have settled on a goal without considering the steps that will be needed to accomplish it. One cannot merely invite visitors. One has to provide a banquet, which ideally should have been planned and prepared well in advance. Once they realize that they aren’t prepared, panic ensues.
Matters take turn for the bleak as the caravan leaves the Aral Sea behind. As the Silk Road leads them closer to Karluk and Amir’s1 town, the expedition is attacked by bandits. The bandits are fended off easily. It seems the would-be robbers are no professionals but merely desperate peasants. Why so desperate?
Because the long-feared Russian invasion has begun. Amir and Karluk’s town is in the path of the invaders. This poses Mr. Smith with a very difficult choice: press on towards his friends despite the risk to himself and more importantly Talas, or turn back without ever seeing his friends again.
I don’t know which Russian invasion this is but I do know it ends badly for Central Asia. I’d like to offer long term hope but there really isn’t any.
All the strengths present in previous volumes — lavish costumes, engaging plot, amusing characters — are present in this one. There is, however, an unfortunate aspect to this installment. I would say “in Laila and Leily’s defense, they may be married but they’re still just kids,” except that I suspect they will be just as energetically scatterbrained at eighty as they are now.
Ali and Nikolovsky acquit themselves competently against the bandits, but as the bandits are disorganized amateurs, that is not so surprising. Later on, however, Nikolovsky buys time for his companions to flee encroaching Russians by single-handedly obliterating the Russian scouting party. He accomplishes this without any serious injuries to himself. Imagine how different Asian history might have been had there been two Nikolovskys to hurl at the invaders.
Mr. Smith has his own rare skill, which is that when he asks better informed people for their advice, Mr. Smith then follows it whether or not the advice disappoints him. This works out well for Mr. Smith, who survives his Central Asian adventure, but less well for the readers, who are presented with a major cliffhanger thanks to Mr. Smith’s prudence.
This cliffhanger that will torment me for months if not years. Although the manga is (as far as I know) ongoing, the English translations have now caught up with the Japanese tankōbon. Failing a SFnal language learning program which will render me instantly proficient in Japanese, I will have to wait an interminable time (or so it will feel) before I can learn who has survived the attack on Amir and Karluk’s town. I have nothing against deferred gratification for other people, but obviously *I* shouldn’t have to wait.
1: Amir is the bride of the title, and ostensibly the protagonist. A strong case could be made that the title might better be read as The Brides’ (plural possessive) Story.