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Review: The Red Palace by June Hur

Thank you to Feiwel & Friends for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: The Red Palace

Author: June Hur

Year Published: 2022

Summary (click here)

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.

June Hur, critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls, returns with The Red Palace—a third evocative, atmospheric historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.

Content Warnings: graphic depiction of murder, mentions of torture

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

The Red Palace was an engaging young adult historical mystery set in 18th century Korea that kept me hooked throughout with a romance so sweet it will give you a cavity. I didn’t really know what to expect from it because I don’t usually read mysteries but I enjoyed it so much and now I definitely want to read June Hur’s other books.

The bloody palace full of spies and secrets where people either lost their lives or their humanity was the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery. It created this unwaveringly tense atmosphere that had me on edge the entire time.

What made it even more interesting was reading the author’s note and finding out The Red Palace is based loosely on the death of Crown Prince Jangheon (Crown Prince Sado). Reading more about his tragic story added a new dimension to the story for me and I love it when I reading a book leads me to read about a topic further and learn something new. In fact June Hur wrote a whole newsletter about this and it’s an interesting read I’d recommend you check out. The main character, Hyeon, was a uinyeo (a female nurse/ physician who treated women during the Joseon dynasty of Korea) and I also liked getting an idea of what medical practice was like at that time.

It really struck me in a sad way how for a historical book the themes of violence against women with little justice for them and the lack of accountability for those in power felt so relevant to our society today. 

I found Hyeon to be really impressive. She was determined, smart and most importantly extremely adaptive in high pressure situations- she really knew how to think on her feet. I feel like her insecurities linked to feeling like she could never make her father proud no matter how excellent she was and tying her worth to her position in the palace would be relatable to a lot of people. That’s why I loved the growth she had in realising she defines her own worth and beginning to seek out the things that will truly make her happy instead of doing things just to receive praise and validation from others even if it puts her wellbeing at risk, I think it’s a good message to take away.

Hyeon’s relationship with her mother improved a lot over the course of the book and was one of the most interesting aspects of the book for me. I do wish this relationship was developed a bit better because the change in Hyeon’s mother seemed very sudden. I think the issue is the dissonance between the way Hyeon described her mother and her mother’s actual actions during the book and the reader is expected to read between the lines a bit too much.

The romance was so cute I am obsessed about Hyeon and Eojin I could read about them for hours without getting bored because they are just EVERYTHING. The slow development of trust and warmth between them was so beautiful and I love how thoughtful Eojin was. For example, when they ate together he gave her all the best bits of meat from his soup. I think it’s the little thoughtful things that make the most difference and that was what Eojin was all about.

I liked how the mystery unfolded in a satisfying way that all made sense. The only thing that annoyed me was how whenever Hyeon approached someone for information no matter who they were they just seemed to tell her everything she needed to know just like that, a lot of the time it felt too easy. I felt like her investigation realistically would have had more resistance and obstacles.

Overall, I would highly recommend The Red Palace and if you have read it and are desperate for more you can read the bonus epilogue which is truly the most adorable thing I have read in my life!

Have you read The Red Palace? What did you think? And are there any other historical mysteries you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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