Jen reviews The Silence of Bones, June Hur‘s debut YA Historical Fiction novel published by Feiwel & Friends.
|Series: Stand Alone||Genre: historical/ YA|
|Date of Publishing: April 21 2020||Trigger Warnings: death, violence, murder, abuse suicidal thoughts,|
|Page count: 336||Publisher: Feiwel & Friends|
June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody YA historical mystery tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.
I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.
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.
“I had felt a morbid interest in murder cases, enjoying the thrill of chasing the truth. But the thrill had vanished, replaced by a heaviness in my chest that made breathing difficult. The truth seemed as tangled as a lie, and the darkness seemed to grow darker, with no promise of a bright morning.”
Tokyo by RM
I came across The Silence of Bones last year when I was looking for something along the lines of a Korean myth-based fantasy. The cover was stunning and grabbed my attention immediately. While this wasn’t the myth-based fantasy I was looking for – it’s more a historical (Joseon era) sleuth story and I don’t usually read straight-up historical (though I sure seem to be reading a ton of it lately) – I enjoyed it nonetheless. There was no romance in this like I thought there would be… that YA label, le sigh… I should know better by now than to assume.
Anyway, on with the review.
Seol is a police Damo. She assists the inspector with his investigation in everything from being an errand girl to being used as an extension of their hands when there is a need to touch or move, a female body (men can’t touch women outside of their relatives). Seol has a natural curiosity and learns quickly, becoming an asset to the inspector she works under, though, in a time when curiosity and agency are frowned upon in a woman, those same qualities tend to get her into trouble more often than not.
Seol’s low position as damo helps to give her an ‘in’ (so to speak) with the lower-class citizens, an information source that the police would be unlikely to have due to mistrust of their power, or just not wanting to get involved in the first place. It also gives us a window into the world outside of palaces, and other highborn class locales that we see more of in the dramas (I guess the working class and poverty just aren’t that exciting to viewers, and the clothes are definitely not as pretty).
I really enjoyed the setting. It was beautifully done. The history, the people, clothes, buildings, food – it was all there. It grounded the story never letting it feel like it was a stage but threading through the murder, the historical timeline, and the loss of Seol’s family, adding layers to the story while linking it all into one lovely cohesive package.
As expected, this is not a light subject but it’s not depressing either. There is an underlying sadness with Seol, who misses her home, and her family, that’s tangible. She is dealing with death and the dark underside of people everyday; it just lends to this somewhat melancholy feel throughout the story. Because of that tone, I thought the cover of the book, with its moody darker blues theme suited it perfectly.
I did feel there was a bit of a distant feel to Seol. Her POV is very introspective which I find sometimes makes things more detached feeling than you would think it should. Even when we are seeing it happen, it’s still a “told feeling” and that sharpness to the emotions is lessened.
Because of that perspective, and her placement in society, there is a distance between her and her superiors that occasionally made it hard for me to keep the men separated in my head – Hand and Shim especially. They were kind of similar in the professional way they handled themselves where Choi was a jerk, so he was easy to remember.
I think, mostly for me, it was the short times on screen and the gaps in between. If I had read the book quicker this probably would have been a non-issue but anyone who has read my reviews knows I am terrible at keeping names straight at the best of time.
The mystery is very twisty – a few things you can guess at and others were kept in the dark until almost the last minute. I did find it a little convoluted when all the clues came together and clicked with Seol, all at once, and we get her reasoning it out/explanation.
I have learned over the years that I really like it when we hear from the criminal and get an account of why from them too, so I was glad to see there was some of both here – reasoning from her and a few words from the criminal. It balances it out keeping the story from having that “hey, I’m going to kill you but first let me explain why I did it” bad guy speech, that is hard to escape from in murder mysteries, and it lets our detective show off their ‘little grey cells’.
The Silence of the Bones was a good solid debut and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of June Hur’s future books. (Even though I don’t normally read historical fiction.)
I loved that there were splashes of Korean words (and that tidbit about the Hangul/writing) to help with the setting. Don’t worry they’re Romanised for ease, and there aren’t too many so as to not draw away from the story itself.
I am not a history person at all, but I found the story parts that dealt with and/or talked about the rise of Catholicism, and the effort to squash it, very interesting.