4.5 star

Review: The Red Palace by June Hur

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.

This was one of my anticipated reads back in January and I finally got around to it. And boy am I glad I did! I was expecting a general historical fiction story, not realizing it was doubling up as a mystery novel. Needless to say, that is an instant win in my book, and I certainly enjoyed this one.

The Red Palace takes place in eighteenth-century Korea. Our protagonist, Hyeon, a lowly bastard daughter of a noble, who has worked her way to enter the palace as a nurse. When one day she is forcibly put into the middle of court drama and becomes entangled in an investigation, how will she leverage her position of (non-)power? Or will she be silenced for her crimes should the King find out?

The setting was fantastic. I am obviously not a history on eighteenth-century Korean culture, but the setting itself was convincing enough, and the historical elements appeared pretty spot on and well-researched. I definitely felt like I was in one of those period films watching things unfold before my eyes. Considering the various levels of police, palace, and civilians involved, I felt like it was all woven together with the feel of a Korea from centuries past.

The characters were quite complex and fit into their roles quite well. There was nothing too crazy or exciting with the characters, but the development was done well, and it was easy to get attached to certain characters. I find that being able to make readers root for certain people in mystery books can be a great literary device to play with our expectations. Whether it matches up or is a surprise, either way it’s meaningful when the author is able to forge the connection—so kudos to the author there!

Overall the plot was quite good, probably the highlight of this book in conjunction with the historical fiction aspect. The plot was easy to follow and not overly complicated, yet still had enough intrigue to hold my attention while navigating the different time period. The book was actually a lot shorter than I expected for a historical fiction, but probably in line with the mystery side. That being said, it felt like the story gave me everything I wanted from it and didn’t leave loose ends.

The ending itself wasn’t the most fantastical thing I’ve ever read, but I really wasn’t expecting that. It was completely satisfying enough and the climax was also well executed. Overall I’d say the focus of the book was a good balance of character development, driven by the macabre situation of the plot. Considering my recent love of historical fictions and my ever-present interest in mystery novels, I think this one really gave me the best of both worlds!

Overall Recommendations

The Red Palace is a historical mystery novel that takes place in eighteenth-century Korea. Our protagonist Hyeon makes it into the palace as a nurse but one day gets recruited into court political affairs. When she one day also happens on a murder, and the main suspect is her mentor, she must decide whether she wants to lay her life down on the line to get to the bottom of the situation. Accompanied (secretly) by an enigmatic officer, find out how Hyeon navigates the difficult political situation as a lowly palace nurse in this exciting and fast-paced historical fiction meets mystery novel!


4 thoughts on “Review: The Red Palace by June Hur”

  1. Great review! This sounds really interesting, I like historical fiction and I’m always looking for ones set in different time periods and locations, so I’m going to check it out!


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