By Kaoru Mori. Released in Japan as "Otoyomegatari" by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine fellows!. Released in North America by Yen Press.
There's no getting around how handsome a volume of manga this is. Even leaving aside the presentation, where Yen has really gone above and beyond with hardcover and everything, it's simply gorgeous to look at. Kaoru Mori became a popular "blogger" author over here with her previous series Emma, and this new series sees her chancing her focus while keeping the same things that made people come back to her Victorian England over and over again.
The manga itself takes place somewhere in Central Asia in the early 19th Century, and is a nice role reversal of the usual dealings at that time, where a young man in his early 20s would take a wife who was barely into her teens. Here we find that the groom, Karluk is only twelve years old himself, and that the bride is twenty years old! Scandal! It's never explicitly stated why Amir is still unmarried at such an advanced age - so far I'm guessing it might have something to do with her hunting/gathering/all around awesome skills - but it's definitely an unspoken worry, with many villagers stunned that she hasn't had children.
The volume, for the most part, follows the story of her interactions with her new family and village, with a few side trips dealing with the children of Karluk's sister, who are gleefully childlike and provide a nice contrast with the too-mature-for-their-years lead couple. Amir proves to be almost too good to be true, showing the village the art of hunting rabbits and how to track a nomadic tribe that can conceal its movements. There is a final chapter, luckily, that shows her less-than-perfect side, as we see her completely freaking out when her husband is bedridden with a bad cold. It seems clear that death has touched her in the past from her emotions here, and I hope we can find out more about that soon.
For those looking at the fact that the boy groom in the series is twelve years old and raising an eyebrow, I note that a) this is the early 19th century, and b) nothing seems to have been consummated so far. There is one shot of a naked Amir convincing her husband to sleep unclothed next to her to share body heat on a cold night, but his reaction seems to be seeing Amir as a mother figure more than anything else.
If there's anything wrong with the series, it's that things seem just a little too polished. It's an excellent manga, with good characters who interact well, gorgeous art, and clear signs of an overarching plot that begins to get started about 3/4 through the volume. At the same time, I can't help but feel that I'm looking at a painting in a museum rather than reading a modern manga. There is a coolness to Amir that doesn't really allow you to get closer to her, even when she's being nice and friendly. It makes me feel as if I can't really love the manga as much as I want to.
Despite that, this is still a great pickup for Yen, and I hope that Volume 2, out in October, gives me a little more to work with.