When Soah’s impoverished, desperate village decides to sacrifice her to the Water God Habaek to end a long drought, they believe that drowning one beautiful girl will save their entire community and bring much-needed rain. Not only is Soah surprised to be rescued by the Water God-instead of killed-she never imagined she’d be a welcomed guest in Habaek’s magical kingdom, where an exciting new life awaits her! Most surprising, however, is the Water God himself . . . and how very different he is from the monster Soah imagined.
Review: Bride of the Water God by Mi-Kyung Yun
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there’s no better time to get into the ultra-romantic saga that is Bride of the Water God. Begun in 2006, it now runs to 16 volumes in the English translation, with the 17th due out later this year, and has stacked up hundreds of loyal readers along the way. It has also won its creator, Mi-Kyung Yun, a “Manhwa of Today” award in her native Korea.
So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, first of all, this is one of the most beautifully drawn graphic novels you will ever see. Mi-Kyung Yun puts much more detail into her drawings than the average manga artist. Each book comes not only with beautiful cover art, but also several colour plates at the start of each volume. The detail on the palaces, costumes etc. in the story is exquisite. And trademark blossoms and butterflies show up everywhere. Not only that, but the characters themselves are drop-dead gorgeous. Just when you think she couldn’t possibly come up with any more androgynously beautiful male characters…there’s another one! In fact, reading Bride of the Water God is one big swoon-fest!
But none of that is any good without a great story. Which this is. And one that, in my opinion, gets better as the series goes along. It begins with Soah being sacrificed to the Water God, Habaek, and finding herself in the gods’ realm of Suguk, unaware that her new husband is cursed to be a little boy by day and a man by night. To confuse matters, the adult Habaek introduces himself as Mui, leading Soah to believe she is cheating on her husband with – her husband! Not to mention the handsome archer god, Huye. But Bride of the Water God is not just a story of romantic entanglements. There are darker forces at work in Suguk, manipulative and jealous gods with their own agenda. And mysteries about the past. Did Habaek murder his previous human bride? What exactly are the relationships between the gods? And who is really pulling the strings? As the series goes on, we are taken further back into the past, to the tragedy that lies on Habaek’s parents, and feuds in the heavens with terrible ties of loyalty. Will Habaek and Soah ever be able to live as husband and wife? Or will the wars between rival gods destroy them all?
A few words of warning. Bride of the Water God can take some getting into at first. It is not fast-moving, unlike a lot of manga I’ve read. It uses techniques from East Asian cinema, often pausing to focus on a flower opening or water dropping into a pond, or listening to the sound of wind. Mi-Kyung Yun also includes a lot of quotations from traditional Korean poetry, which becomes a sort of silent soundtrack to the series.
Then there are the flashbacks. There are plenty of them and it’s not always clearly signaled when they’re about to happen. And there is no handy recap at the beginning of a new volume. You just have to remember what happened or figure it out from the flashbacks. Also, the between-chapters artwork pops up with no indication that a chapter has ended. I found this all rather confusing at first, and had to read the first volume twice through before I got to grips with it. But, as someone who has recently finished Volume 15 and can’t wait for more, I can tell you that it gets a hold of you. And won’t let go.
So, if you enjoy an achingly romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, with a big slice of gothic mystery on the side, pick up Bride of the Water God and get into the story of Soah and Habaek.
I think Bride of the Water God has already been adapted into an anime in Korea (and if it hasn’t, it should have!) It would also work brilliantly as a stage play (recorded on DVD) as was done with Japanese manga, Fushigi Yûgi. There is also some beautiful Bride of the Water God cosplay online. For example:
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
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