The Red Palace
Feiwel & Friends
Published Jan. 25. 2022
In the afterward to her latest novel, The Red Palace, June Hur explains that she has wanted to write about Crown Prince Sado, but that she faced some challenges about how best to do that. Her solution was to write a story directly involving the prince, but not as a main character. The Red Palace is set during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty in 1758. Palace nurse Hyeon, 18, quickly finds herself involved in the investigation of a massacre, with the police accusing her beloved mentor of the crime. She joins forces with police inspector Eojin to find the truth, but the Crown Prince is quickly identified as the main suspect and since slandering the royal family is punishable by death the investigation puts both Hyeon and Eojin in grave danger.
Hyeon is a great character. She is smart and capable, but she also has her flaws, like her strong need to please her father. The course of the investigation and her relationship with Eojin both force her to question the goals she has set for herself and the values she holds dear. In searching for the truth about the murders she also learns some truths about herself and her family, and Hur weaves together plot and character development expertly.
Hur’s murder mystery also shows a deft hand. She drops all the necessary bread crumbs for an armchair sleuth to work out who done it, but at the same time leaves enough unanswered questions that I’d guess most readers will still be trying to piece it all together until the end. When Hur does finally reveal the culprit, it’s very satisfying.
My one complaint is that the book begins and ends very abruptly. The reader joins Hyeon just as she is being thrown into the thick of things and only shortly before she learns of the massacre she will spend the rest of the novel investigating. Hur points out often that the investigation has completely interrupted Hyeon’s life but because we don’t really see what her life is like beforehand, we kind of have to take the author’s word for it.
The final chapter also ends abruptly, though there is an epilogue that leaves the reader with a more satisfying ending. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here and it shouldn’t matter, but I think it would have felt less abrupt if the epilogue had instead just been labeled the final chapter instead.
Either way, it was a wonderful novel and I would recommend it to anyone—teens and adults—who enjoys historical fiction and murder mysteries.