Published: April 21st 2020
Tag: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery, 19th Century, Class-Disparity, Korean History/Culture, Realism, PoC, Murder Mystery
| Synopsis From Publisher |
1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.
As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.
But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.
| Book Review |
– Content –
Female Detectives for the win! -> I really enjoyed this historical fiction mystery featuring a female detective. Albeit, she’s a damo, which means she’s merely a female assistant to detectives, since in Korea at this time, men are not allowed to look at the corpses of females. Because of this, Seol, gets to put her sleuthing to work by aiding the head detective, Han, in the investigation of the murder of a noble woman. I loved seeing the strength and tenacity in Seol as she pushed her curiosity to the limit to discover the murderer. It was really awesome seeing this perspective in history, since this isn’t a time period or area often explored in Western culture.
Joseon-Era Korea -> I don’t know about you, but I’m a HUGE K-drama fan, and I’ve seen so many shows that take place during this dynasty. It’s a rather long dynasty, but it’s amazing how much happens in Korea during it. Love that Hur chose to make this period the setting for her novel. I loved getting to learn about a new aspect of this time period, with the damos and the detective methodology at this time period. It was fascinating to read and it really made my enjoyment of the book that much stronger.
The unpredictable ending! -> I am always pleased when I can’t predict the ending of a murder-mystery. I love that Hur kept me guessing at every turn and the ending was so unexpected! It was really nice to see that the road was not just smoothed out and tied up nicely, either, but that the characters seemed to follow realistic paths and that the conclusion was more bittersweet than unrealistically perfect.
– Literary Value-
Well developed plot. -> The thing I think I like most about this book is the plot. I think Hur has done an excellent job of weaving the threads of the story. We learn about the world of 1800s Korea, the structure of the investigation bureau, and Seol’s life in an easy, flowing manner. I never felt overwhelmed by facts or that Hur was just spelling things out to me. I also enjoyed the occasional twists that would crop up and surprise me. The pace was just right, I think, for a mystery story.
Strong character development. -> I felt like I really got to know Seol over the course of this novel and I loved seeing her progress through the novel and learn more about herself and her past. This book has many side characters, but each of them are distinct and feel real. The amount of character development in this book is really spot-on. I never felt like this or that character was just a filler.
Showing, not telling at its best. -> One of my biggest pet peeves is when authors fall back on just telling the reader everything to catch them up to speed or as a crutch to get from point a to point b. Not so with Hur! I love that she showed the reader through character actions and through plot development how the world worked, what character motivations were, etc. It was especially nice to see how easily she wove traditional Korean concepts into the story without having some big aside to describe the idea/thing. She just used the story to make it clear. With novels like this, where there is a cultural gap being bridged, this effort makes all the difference.
– Entertainment Factor –
This book was everything I wanted it to be! It has the drama, the thrill, and the twisting turns I expect from a murder-mystery. Plus, I loved exploring the world of Joseon-era Korea through Seol’s eyes. I loved getting to see how the world of women looked in a culture different from my own at this time period.
This book has just the right about of guess-work that kept me turning the pages. I think every twist and turn was placed just right and the big reveal at the end felt justified. I would definitely love to see more books like this one.
– Cover Art –
Well, I can say that I was first attracted to the cover of this book. It made me want to read it. I also really, really love this color blue and the way that it is played out so minimally.
If I could change one thing, it would be to have the image be more clearly obviously Asian. I say this because representation matters, and I think this cover is borderline ambiguous about ethnicity. This book is about a young Korean woman. If they’re going to show a young Korean woman on the cover, I want it to be very obvious!
That being said, I do like the cover, even though I’m not as big a fan of seeing people/faces on covers.
| My Rating |
Definitely Worth the Read
This was as good as I was hoping it would be, and how often does that happen? I really loved delving into the Joseon-era and seeing the ins and outs of early detective work, especially from the eyes of a young woman. Seol was such a great character to follow – her natural curiosity meant that, as a reader, I got to explore the world quite thoroughly, yet Hur still managed to sneak in quite a few twists and turns to keep me guessing.
Not only does this book offer up a pretty solid murder-mystery, it also brings some much needed diversity to the genre. And the writing is there, as well, with a great plot line and character development, which gives this book a completeness. I felt very satisfied upon reaching the ending.
Would I recommend this book?
I would definitely recommend this book. Any fans of murder-mysteries, especially in the YA genre, are sure to enjoy this book. And anyone looking to add a little diversity to their reading habits, this one would be a great choice. It also provides some historical interest, so any fans of historical drama would easily be entertained by this book. Check it out!