The Silence of Bones by June Hur
I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.
Sixteen year-old Seol has been indentured to the police bureau for one generation. She’ll be 41 when she’s finally released, and after a failed escape that leaves her branded, she’s nearly resigned herself to a life of drudgery. Until a noblewoman is found murdered with her nose cut off, and her murder may be connected to the un-investigated deaths of several lowborn men and women who also died in a similar fashion. Only Seol thinks they’re connected, and Seol’s past may contain all the answers.
I normally don’t read historical fiction mysteries, but this was pretty good.
The writing sucked me in despite myself (I was a little leery on this one). The writing is beautiful, and Seol’s voice is strong, passionate and what I would imagine a teenager of 1800 Korea to be like. She’s bright and too curious for her own good, and her unfortunate habit of eavesdropping tends to bring her more trouble than she imagines.
Without giving any spoilers away, I did like slowly finding out the mystery of her past, and I thought that it was very well done. A young child can forget some traumatic things that happen, but remember others, and can also forget key details like who their parents were or what happened or the names of their siblings, particularly if they are only referred to in honorifics.
And I also liked reading about this aspect of Korean history, with the persecution of Catholics and the tension between the Asiatic and European worlds, and the tensions within Asian countries as well, and how it affected Seol in small and large ways. The investigative and forensic techniques were also really fascinating to read and learn about.
I also enjoyed her relationship with Inspector Han, and her realizations that good can mean many different things, and that most people are in shades of grey and are neither wholly good nor bad but can be motivated either way.
Your inspector is like every other aristocrat. His kindness is conditional. So Long as you please your inspector, do what he tells you, he will treat you like his sister. But upset him, and you become again a mere slave to him.
And that witness testimony can be flawed, particularly testimony that is “revealed” under torture.
And, of course, the invisibility of women played a key role in this book. Seol was enslaved, and worked with other damos who were in a similar situation but well-educated, and for the most part they were ignored by their male counterparts unless they were wanted for something.
Anywho, this was solidly plotted, well researched and thoroughly engaging. It’s not usually a genre I pick up, but I’m happy I gave this one a chance.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
The Silence of Bones released April 21, 2020, from Feiwel & Friends.