Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval.
But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.
In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
June Hur is a name I’ve seen for several years, mostly due to the beautiful covers her previous books have gotten (Silence of the Bones, The Forest of Stolen Girls), but this is my first time delving into one of her works. And I’m simply in awe. The Red Palace is a stunning book, with beautiful writing that sucks a reader in, impeccable pacing, and a twisty, engaging historical murder mystery plot.
What first stood out to me as I read was Hur’s writing. There’s this enticing quality to it, truly drawing you in with every word. Hur is able to paint an atmosphere of tension and suspense so quickly, setting the scene of the historical Joseon era and the book’s overall mood. And yet, the prose is never pretentious, nor does it have that gothic quality that many suspense novels I’ve recently read to, and yet I found it so so captivating all the same.
I loved the murder mystery plot in this. Hyeon is a palace nurse who, in her opening scene, is ordered to tend to a prince who isn’t actually there. She quickly discovers that she’s been unwillingly drawn into this long-running series of murders and finds herself too curious, too determined, to simply turn a blind eye. The pacing for this story is so perfectly done. There are the soft and tender moments, especially between Hyeon and police inspector Eojin, and those moments are given their time to breathe, to lull the reader to in a calm. Then there are the moments when the tempo picks up and Hyeon knows she’s onto something, that a piece of the puzzle is just within her grasp. There are several twists and I was thoroughly satisfied with all of them.
Overall I rate this book a 4.5/5. Hur writes a fantastic YA murder mystery novel, set in the historical Korean Joseon era. The writing pulled me right in, and both the characters and the plot were fantastic. I’ll surely be checking out her other books in the future.