Sorata Akizuki’s Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayukihime) is an ongoing shoujo manga. It is very, very, very loosely based on the folktale of Snow White.
Prince Raji of Tabarun decides to take herbalist Shirayuki as his next concubine. Why? Because her hair is the colour of red ripe apples. It does not occur to him that Shirayuki might have her own thoughts about the matter. He dispatches a summons and awaits his new red-haired lover.
Rather than submit to being a spoiled prince’s momentary pastime, Shirayuki cuts off her long red hair, leaving it for the prince who valued it so much, then decamps for the neighbouring kingdom of Clarines. Along the way she takes shelter in an abandoned mansion, one that is not so empty as it appears.
Enter another prince.
Second Prince Zen is the spare heir to Clarines, tasked with various boring ceremonial duties. He plays hooky from time to time; the abandoned mansion is his hidey-hole.
The mansion is not as empty as Zen initially believed.
The meet-cute that ensures leaves both Shirayuki and Zen with minor injuries. It’s a fine opportunity for Shirayuki to demonstrate her skill as a herbalist. At least it would be if the Prince were not too cautious to permit a total stranger to treat him with a poultice that might be poisonous. Shirayuki treats herself with it, so proving that this particular poultice is not poisoned.
One of Raji’s minions is determined to retrieve the errant concubine. He concocts a basket of apples dosed with a slow-acting poison, poison for which only Raji has the antidote. Shirayuki is to be tempted into eating one of the apples, then informed that she must return to Raji tout suite if she doesn’t want to die.
This plan hits a snag when Zen bites into one of the apples.
Shirayuki and Zen descend upon an Raji armed with righteous wrath.
Do not worry about Zen. Not only is he the main love interest for the protagonist and so unlikely to be killed off in the first volume, people apparently try to poison him frequently enough that he is in the habit of taking small amounts of poison to build up his resistance.
I gather from reading ahead that Raji eventually sees the error of his ways and becomes a more sympathetic figure. In volume one, the nicest thing one can say about him is that he is not wilfully malicious. He simply appears incapable of understanding that other people might have preferences that differ from his.
Shirayuki lucks her way into a position in Zen’s retinue, but that does not mean she can expect an easy life. The manga is based on a fairy tale, but the kingdoms depicted are grimly realistic. The aristocracy has vast but poorly defined rights and powers, there are deep class differences, it’s easy to fall from wealth into desperate poverty, and slavery seems to be so common as escape comment (since her hair makes her a valuable commodity, getting carried off by slavers is something about which Shirayuki has to worry).
I will probably give the a second volume a try, but so far this manga is not quite my thing. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. The art is competent, and I can see how the author could take the story in interesting directions. This volume, however, was amusing but not addictive. Ah well.