Review: The Silence of Bones

Title: The Silence of Bones
Author: June Hur
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 319
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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.

Review: [Content notes: This book includes violence, murder, torture, (past) branding, misogyny, mention/description of animal abuse, and mention/description of suicide. Also, one of the major plots in the book is the violent persecution of Korean Catholics.]

My favorite historicals are ones that have a close focus on a “normal” person who gets swept up in events far larger than them (and frequently out of their control). My favorite mysteries center curious protagonists who stumble onto a small piece of some greater story and keep unravelling. Author June Hur gave me an expert blending of both those things in THE SILENCE OF BONES.

As a police bureau damo, our protagonist Seol is initially viewed and acts as an extension of the male officers’ hands. As a woman, she can go where the men can’t, and they see her as a useful tool to interrogate or arrest female suspects, search women’s rooms, and haul female corpses—the latter of which is one of the first things Seol is ordered to do in the opening chapter.

Seol, meanwhile, wants to find her missing brother, who left her and her older sister behind several years ago. All she has are childhood memories and a faded sketch of his likeness, but she is determined to find him—somehow. (I quite enjoyed how Hur slowly revealed Seol and her missing brother’s story throughout the larger mystery.) But when Lady O is murdered, Seol quickly finds herself caught up in a rapidly expanding mystery/conspiracy that could very easily get her killed.

Rather than having the royals/nobility as significant players in the book, much of what goes on politically happens in the background or over Seol’s head, where she can do little at all to affect those greater events. THE SILENCE OF BONES instead sticks closely with Seol while she searches for the murderer, and that makes the book feel very personal. The threats are aimed at her, or people she knows, which keeps the tension high and the story engaging.

Seol is a fantastic protagonist. She is curious and clever and keenly aware of how dangerous that can be to her, especially when she doesn’t know who she can trust in the police bureau. As a damo, her resources and power are limited even with an ally, but she still does what she can to uncover the truth behind everything.

Recommendation: Get it soon. June Hur’s debut novel is a great blend of historical fiction and mystery. I am very much looking forward to her next book.

The Silence Of Bones by June Hur: Author Interview
Interview With “The Silence of Bones” Author, June Hur: Part I
June Hur & All We Talk About Is Murder
Our Friend is Here! Asian Heritage Month Edition – An Interview with June Hur, Author of The Silence of Bones; On Craft, Homely Reminders, & Korean History