The Red Palace

Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2022. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250800558.
Gr 8 Up–Eighteen-year-old Hyeon is a palace nurse, one of the only esteemed positions open to illegitimate daughters in 1758 Joseon Korea. It is also an incredibly dangerous one, as royals and courtiers move servants about the palace like pieces in their political games, with little concern for those who are sacrificed for power. When a massacre occurs at her old nursing school, the police fixate on Hyeon’s friend and mentor to counter the anonymous handbills that have been plastered all over the capital accusing the Crown Prince. To clear her mentor’s name, Hyeon teams up with 18-year-old Seo Eojin, a new inspector also determined to put truth before politics. Hyeon walks a knife’s edge: She is the Crown Prince’s alibi, but on the night of the massacre he was nowhere to be found. Hur’s Joseon mysteries are groundbreaking, and this retelling of Prince Sado is no exception. She balances the romance and court politics with the terrible cruelties of police violence and societal caste systems. Her use of Korean words lends itself to meticulous worldbuilding and broadens her readers’ understanding of the culture, context, and emotional resonance in her story. Perhaps most impressive is Hyeon’s growth as she learns everyone has a life as complicated and complete as her own. The cast is Korean.
VERDICT Hur set the bar high with her previous works and has cleared it with room to spare. A tense political thriller, a beautiful romance, and a coming of age all in one unique package.

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