I wasn’t expecting to see Smith back with Talas after the two parted, or rather “were parted,” way back in vol. 3, but it’s nice that it happened nonetheless. There’s a part of me that wishes it led to some more engaging storytelling here, however. Things start off with a chapter of glorified and glorious filler as we get a series of one and two full-page vignettes about Amir, Karluk and their family during the wintertime. It all feels like an assemblage of plot beats that mangaka Kaoru Mori wasn’t able to fit in elsewhere, but she delivers such a convincing sense of place and humanity with each one that I’m glad she took the time to show them to us. With regards to our new couple, we’re first treated to finding out what happened to Talas after she last saw Smith and wound up being married to the most understanding man on the Silk Road. From there, we get to see the preparations they make for Smith’s journey to Ankara.
This part of the volume is filled with lots of interesting details about the era and the place, with the standout being a chapter devoted entirely to showing us how photographs were made back then. There’s also an amusing diversion as we learn about what happened to Smith’s old pocketwatch and the regal bearing it has acquired since he parted ways with it. It’s all nice enough, and looks amazing as always courtesy of Mori’s draftsmanship, even if it doesn’t feel like there’s anything pushing the story forward right now. We’ve got the vague threat of the Russians in the background, and that might provide some drama if and or when they show up.
In the here and now, however, I’m reminded of how the most recent volume of “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” managed to have its cake and eat it too in this regard. It provided a lot of interesting worldbuilding as this volume did, but also delivered some equally engaging foreshadowing and genuinely compelling character development. Vol. 11 is a nice enough diversion although it left me wanting more substantial storytelling next time around.