Joseon (Korea), 1758. Everyone is listening in the palace.
With secrets and treachery in every chamber, entering the palace means walking a path stained in blood. Eighteen-year-old Hyeon hopes it will be worth it. After years of studious work, Hyeon has earned her status as a palace nurse–a position that she hopes might help her gain her estranged father’s approval, if not his respect.
After four women are brutally murdered in the public medical office under the dark of night, Hyeon’s friend and mentor Nurse Jeongsu becomes the prime suspect. Determined to clear her teacher’s name before it’s too late, Hyeon is thrust into the center of the palace’s dangerous politics as she starts her own investigation.
Unearthing palace secrets with help from young police inspector Eojin could cost Hyeon everything, especially when the pair finds evidence incriminating the Crown Prince. Together Hyeon and Eojin will have to confront the palace’s darkest truths if they want to solve the murders in The Red Palace (2022) by June Hur.
The Red Palace is Hur’s latest standalone mystery. Set in eighteenth century Korea, Hur draws inspiration from the actual life of Prince Sado while bringing both her setting and characters vibrantly to life. Hur carefully details the history of Prince Sado in an author’s note at the end of the novel. The audiobook, narrated by Michelle H. Lee, offers a rich listening experiences–particularly for readers unfamiliar with Korean pronunciation.
Hyeon’s first person narration immediately pulls readers into the action with tension that doesn’t ease until the novel’s powerful conclusion. As an illegitimate daughter, Hyeon is keenly aware of her status within Joseon’s patriarchal society where familial ties and caste are everything. Still, she rejects these constructs in order to fight for what she believes in and try to save Nurse Jeongsu.
Steady pacing, dramatic reveals, and Hyeon’s determination make The Red Palace a page turner while Hur’s careful interrogation of the limits placed on Hyeon and other young women in Joseon elevate this story into a multifaceted and truly immersive work of historical fiction. This dynamic story is rounded out with subtle hints of romance (and mutual respect) between Hyeon and Eojin and Hyeon’s changing understanding of her own status within her family.
The Red Palace is a fantastic blend of mystery and historical fiction highlighting the best parts of both genres in a powerful combination that makes this story unforgettable. Highly recommended.
Possible Pairings: Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong, Descendant of the Crane by Joan He, Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok