Desert Isle Keeper
The Admiral's Penniless Bride (Manga Edition)
In order to give Harlequin Manga a fair shake, I looked for a book where I had read and enjoyed the original. When Carla Kelly announced that her book The Admiral’s Penniless Bride had been selected for adaptation, I knew I’d found my test case. And the verdict? It’s delightful!
The story is perhaps one of Kelly’s less beloved ones. The heroine, Sophia – Sally – Daviess, marries Admiral Sir Charles Bright in a whirlwind after he finds her down to her last penny at a tea shop. She creates an idyllic life for the two of them on land – until the secret behind her husband’s death comes to light. I cannot say this without being spoilery, but be aware: the ending of this graphic novel adaptation is not the same as the ending from the book. I concede that the book ending was probably historically more accurate, but it always depressed me. In all honesty, I like the change.
What else works for me about this adaptation? I love the layouts. The artist does a wonderful job creating dense pages which express lots of story, such as the page when Sophia goes from place to place seeking employment and finding nothing. The settings are also terrific. Sir Charles has bought a mansion that was decorated appallingly by a lascivious old nobleman, and the artist’s interpretations of that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. The artist also has the range to draw Sir Charles’s beautiful ocean view and the woodwork-ceiling of the living room of a neighboring marquis. Some of the costumes are ahistorical (Sophia’s dress and hat when they go visiting neighbors are downright Edwardian) but others are quite charming, and they’re all pretty. I also held my breath awaiting the depiction of the Jewish neighbor, but I was relieved to see a friendly old man with a yarmulke, a beard, and no offensively caricatured features. I wish the artist had had the courage to show us Sir Charles’s stump below his hook to help normalize it instead of covering it with speech bubbles, objects, and strategic cropping. I did notice at one point in a close-up he took Sophia’s hand with his left – the one that’s missing.
The biggest issues are in the text. Harlequin Mangas are written in Japanese for a Japanese audience and then certain ones are translated back into other languages. The result of this back and forth is that while the sentences are grammatical, the occasional modernism (“Wow!”) sneaks in, and the names and titles are mangled. The heroine is called Sally in the novel but is Sophia here; a neighbor named Rivka becomes Livka (the L and R in Japanese are the same); the extra S in Daviess disappears. More egregiously, the marquis becomes a count partway through (Regency England didn’t even have counts!) and is referred to as “Sir Primly” at one point. Hey, Harlequin – it will save you time and money to just give the translators a copy of the book!
128 pages is the standard length for a Harlequin manga. I wish the story had been longer – it does feel a bit rushed at times – but mostly, I wish it had been longer because I was enjoying it so much and remembered aspects of the original that could have been more. The heroine and Livka’s relationship, for instance, and the denouement are fine, but I wanted even more time on them. But “I want more!” is one of the most flattering criticisms I can make of a book. I highly recommend this adaptation and will definitely be re-reading it!