Kate’s Review: “The Red Palace”

Book: “The Red Palace” by June Hur

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received access to an eARC via NetGalley from the author.

Book Description: 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.

Review: Thank you to June Hur for providing me with an eARC of this novel via NetGalley!

I was amped to see that June Hur had another historical mystery/thriller coming out this year, and I was very lucky to get an eARC from Hur herself through NetGalley. Given that Hurs books, which take place in historical Korea, are always a hit with me, I was eager to check out “The Red Palace”, a mystery involving shady royals, a palace nurse, and a creepy moment in Korean history involving murder.

The story itself is at times creepy and always suspenseful, given that someone is murdering palace nurses and it may well be the Crown Prince himself. As our characters Palace Nurse Hyeon and Inspector Eojin investigate, the puzzle pieces fall into place, but as they do so the stakes raise higher and higher. I liked both of them so much (and I loved their chemistry as they investigated together) that I was fully invested in their safety, almost as much as I was invested in their romance. Maybe that should be switched around in terms of priorities, but whatever. I thought that Hur did a really good job of putting all the clues in place and revealing them at just the right times, and I was genuinely surprised by some of the reveals. They all made perfect sense upon reflection, and I enjoyed going on the investigation with our protagonists. It feels a lot like a procedural formula that you could see in modern times, of the medical person assisting the police officer, and it is a tried and true trope that works here too.

And I really loved the protagonists, specifically Hyeon. Her backstory has a good balance of angst and determination, and I completely bought her motive for wanting to solve this mystery given her close relationship with Nurse Jeongsu, her mentor and mother figure (as he own mother is cold and their relationship is complicated) that has been accused of the murders of their fellow nurses. We didn’t see as much of Jeongsu as I would have liked, and there was more telling as opposed to showing their relationship, but we DID get to see the complicated one between Hyeon and her concubine mother, while her Lord father has denied her acknowledgement and care. It’s established that while Hyeon has a lot to lose by investigating, but we completely believe why she pursues it, doggedly so. And as I mentioned above, I really loved her working (and romantic tension filled) relationship with the young inspector Eojin. He, too, has a lot to prove and a lot to lose, and it means that they work as good foils for each other.

And finally, the time and place is great. Given that “The Red Palace” is partially inspired by the notorious life and death of Crown Prince Sado (a prince who did, indeed, murder a number of people and then was executed at the behest of his father), we get a look into a dark footnote in Korean history and get some expansion on the themes it harkens to. Hur’s books are always so great for time and place, jumping through various centuries in Korea, and this one had some good insight into the workings of the Palace culture and hierarchy for those who serve it. I also liked the fact that she put an author’s note in about Crown Prince Sado, which contextualized the story at hand and gave it a bit more depth. Man do I love me an author’s note that has to do with historical context!

I quite enjoyed “The Red Palace”. I implore historical mystery and thriller fans to pick up June Hur if you haven’t already.

Rating 8: A creepy and tense historical mystery based in notorious fact, “The Red Palace” is another fun thriller from June Hur with very likable characters and a unique time and place.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Red Palace” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction w/ POC”, and “ATY 2022: Asian or Pacific Islander Author”.

Find “The Red Palace” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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