Friday, June 04, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: Emma series by Kaoru Mori

The Alphabet in Historical Fiction challenge being hosted by Historical Tapestry continues and this time I want to focus on a manga series that is set in Victorian England - the Emma series by Kaoru Mori. So far I have read three of the books in this series, so I thought I would do mini reviews of those three books.

I have read very little manga, but when I heard about this series, I was interested enough to give it a go, mainly because it was a way of being introduced to manga but without going too far out of my comfort zone given the historical setting.

One of the interesting things about this series is that in a way it seems to be a series of entertaining vignettes within an apparently slow moving storyline, and yet there is humour, there are historical details and there are  amazing images that convey a very colourful storyline, all in black and white. The class distinctions between our two main characters might not always at the very forefront of the storyline, but it is always bubbling away in the background, none more so when the two characters are portrayed in their own individual environments.

The characters are all visually appealing and very much fit into the setting of the novels, without losing the 'manga' style.

I have only read the first three in the series so far, but I have every intention of reading more. Below are the covers and synopses, and just a couple of highlights from each novel that I have read.

An upstairs gentlemen and a downstairs servant share a secret love.

The saga begins. In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.

Emma is the maid to the former school teacher of a young gentleman, William. They meet when he comes to visit his former teacher, and there is an immediate attraction. Like the setting, the courtship such as it is, is very understated and gradual, that is until William's friend arrives from the continent complete with his entourage of dancers and elephants, and he too is attracted to Emma.

London's elite society places great importance on class differences, unlike William Jones. He regards Emma as a beautiful, charming young woman and not merely a servant. After their first real date, things seem to be going in a positive direction for them. But the leisurely pace of the growing relationship between them ends suddenly when disaster strikes at home.

Whilst in the previous book, the class differences between the two characters were present, it is in this book that the consequences of going against societal norms come to the fore.

A chance meeting leads Emma to a new situation ... and new challenges

One the train back to her hometown, Emma meets Tasha, a maid working at a wealthy family's mansion in the country. This fateful encounter leads leads to Emma finding employment with the family as well. But despite her years of experience as a maid for Mrs Stownar, living in a mansion filled with servants is something for which she is not prepared.

Circumstances have changed for Emma,and it is only as a result of a fortuitous meeting on a train that Emma finds herself employed in a large house, part of a large group of household servants, and that we therefore get to see more of life downstairs, including a really fun scene where the servants get to celebrate with a party.

Meanwhile William is trying his hardest to meet his family's expectations.

Here are the remaining covers from the original series. There have now also been a further 3 books released which tell the background stories of some of the secondary characters.

For other opinions on this series check out the following links. A couple of them includes some examples of the art.

Things Mean a Lot
In Spring it is the Dawn
Bold. Blue. Adventure
The Written World

The third volume also counts as my read for the Year of the Historical Challenge.


  1. I love this series!! I am glad you gave it a try. :) I know you had book 1 out from the library several times before you got around to reading it, so makes me happy you read the first three.

  2. I actually read the first couple a while ago. I only finished the third one a couple of days ago but I thought it would be good to group them all together as a kind of spotlight post. The fourth one is waiting to be picked up from the library now.

  3. Thank you for reminding me about those additional three volumes! I still haven't read the last one. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series, Marg :)

  4. In my attempt to see more anime this year, I stumbled upon the TV series and loved them. I don’t know if it’s the same with the book, but at the end of each episode there’s a short explanation of a Victorian costume, for instance, why maid throws tea on the floor before sweeping it or a brief history of the Crystal Palace.

    Funny that you mention the slow pace of the book because I got exactly the same feeling with the animation.

  5. Alex, I had no idea this had been made into a movie (if it is the same series)

    Nymeth, I am sure I will.

  6. Now THIS is the kind of mash-up I'd like to see. Save the zombies and stuff and be innovative!

    Thanks for the well-wishes! It's much appreciated.

  7. I've always wondered what these books were about. I've seen the covers around the web. Never read any manga but hear it's quite excellent. Maybe I'll start with these.

  8. Jenny, I thought it was a safe way to introduce myself to Manga. Give them a go.

    Yes, I am not interested in the zombie mashups.

  9. Manga is not really my thing either so perhaps it would for me to try this series. I'm not sure what the difference is between Manga and graphic. do you know?

  10. So interesting! Manga has never really interested me, but this concept is fascinating!



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