I didn’t know it was possible for anyone to feel this seen by a historical fiction novel.
About a murder mystery.
Set in the 18th century.
Centered around Catholic persecution.
I didn’t know it was possible, but it apparently is.
I don’t make the rules. 🤷♀️
TITLE: The Silence of Bones
AUTHOR: June Hur
GENRE: Historical fiction, young adult
PUBLICATION: April 2020 by Feiwel & Friends
RATING: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ⭑
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.
June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.
Trigger warnings: violence, murder, misogyny, mention and description of animal abuse, mention and description of suicide, religious persecution (A big thank you to Ms. Hur for including content warnings in her Goodreads review!) | Trigger Warning Database
The Silence of Bones is set in 18th-century Joseon (present-day Korea), where Seol, a 16-year-old indentured servant to Hanyang’s police bureau, becomes unwittingly swept up in a murder investigation. When noblewoman Lady O is found dead with her nose sliced off, Seol’s curiosity and friendship with the respected Inspector Han lead her into one mystery after another as the frenzy to find the murderer intensifies. But as Seol digs deeper and deeper into the case as well as into her own past, she realizes that nothing is as it seems, and that the killer may be the person she least expects it to be.
I very, very rarely pick up books in the mystery/thriller genre, but The Silence of Bones immediately caught my attention with its blurb and Korean setting, which I still 👏 cannot 👏 wrap 👏 my 👏 head 👏 around!! Joseon, the setting of countless K-dramas, the topic of many a discussion with my extended family, the land of my ancestors, brought to life on the page?! In a YA novel at that!? Yes?!!
And I think you can tell by all the exclamation marks that my expectations were not let down. This book was amazing!!
First, we have the characters. I loved Seol as a main character. She is a curious and inquisitive girl with a realistic sense of fear who’s been told all her life that she had been born a servant, would spend her entire life as a servant, and would die a servant. Her journey to discovering her own potential as the book progressed was bittersweet to follow along, as she slowly realizes that she is capable of doing whatever she puts her mind to, despite what others may tell her.
Every single character, including the supporting ones, had so much depth and were tangibly three-dimensional, even those who had very minor roles in Seol’s life. My personal favorite, though, was Inspector Han. This book gets an extra half dozen stars just for Inspector Han. He’s probably the most flawed out of the entire cast and he’s by no means perfect, but he has such an amazing character arc and I just wanted to give him a giant hug by the end of it all. It’s an immense spoiler to describe his interactions with Seol, but omg the two’s relationship gave me life with its complexity and messiness and general amazingness. Plus, his name is Han Dohyun?? That is the most gorgeous Korean name I have ever heard??? 🤩
The mystery itself was fascinating. Seol’s discovery of one revelation after another kept me on the edge of my seat, and I stressed myself out trying to deduce who the killer might be, especially when the evidence started piling up against my beloved inspector. I loved that I couldn’t trust any of the characters I had been introduced to, although I suspect that’s a common theme in the mystery genre. I also loved the author’s writing style. It caught me off guard with how mature it sounded, for lack of a better word. Hur’s prose fits beautifully with the tense atmosphere of Joseon and Seol’s inner turmoil — I would have had a very hard time noticing that this was her debut from the writing alone.
The main theme of The Silence of Bones is the persecution that Catholics faced in Joseon, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author included several discussions about the Christian faith in her book without it seeming preachy or forced — I loved that with all my heart. And I was further thrilled when I discovered that Ms. Hur wrote those dialogues as a Christian herself, which she testifies to in the acknowledgements.
“When we believe, we hold on to what we think is true. But when we have a conviction, that truth holds on to us… I am convinced, Seol, that I am passionately loved by our Heavenly Father, and that my life is in his good hands. So though pain and sorrow press in around me, conviction holds on to me and strengthens me. It makes my yoke lighter to carry.”
And of course we have the setting — Joseon!! I’m by no means an expert on Korean history; in fact, compared to high school students in South Korea, I barely know anything at all. But the smallest things from Korean culture that the author describes oh-so-casually had me bursting out of my skin from how excited I was. The differences between the honorific and casual forms, the descriptions of Hangul and Hanja and how they are completely different languages, the nehs and eungs, the bowing, the traditional myths, the hanji screens, the hanboks and robes and hats and topknots and — asdfk;jsldkjf; I loveddd it. Soooo muchhhhh. I felt so represented 😭😭😭🥺😍😍😍😍 And I learned so much as well — about the social classes, the politics of the time, and all the weird laws, like a man should never under any circumstances touch a woman. In short, it’s everything I ever wanted in historical fiction.
I was reminded of the story my brother had told me long ago. Brother Moon and Sister Sun. It had left the deepest impression on me, the tale of two children who had tried to escape a tiger and so had climbed up a rope into the sky. The brother had chosen to lock himself within darkness so that his sister might not be scared.
I KNOW THAT STORY. And omg this quote broke my heart 😭😭😭
All in all, please pick up this book. You won’t regret it (at least, I hope not). The characters, writing, and storyline were all phenomenally done. I need more from June Hur! I can’t wait for The Forest of Stolen Girls, coming out in April of next year!
Abby the Christian Bookworm
My heart broke for all the Catholics of the time period that The Silence of Bones is set in. And the fact that people around the world are still being oppressed and persecuted for their religion is equally heartbreaking. No matter what you believe in, we should all treat each other with respect and love. It is only through a collective mindset of goodness that we can eradicate such suffering: “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17 NIV).
That’s it for today! How about you? Have you read The Silence of Bones? Is it on your TBR? Do you have any historical K-drama recommendations for me? 😂 Chat with me in the comments below!