February 21, 2020

The Silence of Bones

Written by June Hur
Feiwel and Friends
336 pp.
Ages 13+
April 2020

The eyes that stare out from the cover of The Silence of Bones are haunted. They are the eyes of sixteen-year-old Seol, a girl indentured to the Capital Police Bureau, who has lost her parents, wants to find her brother or his grave, and is far too curious about those she serves and the investigations in which she must assist. In 1800s Korea, time of the Joseon dynasty, Seol knows her place and, like all servants, knows to "Be cautious. Cross no one. Obey always." (pg. 14)

As a police damo, Seol goes where she is needed to help with female criminals and victims whom the male police are forbidden from touching, according to Confucian tradition. When Lady O, daughter of Cabinet Minister O of Southerner faction, is stabbed and her nose cut off, Seol finds herself talking to her maid, Soyi, and learning about a man and a letter that took the young woman to her death. When Inspector Han discovers Seol eavesdropping and trying to learn more about the murder, he informally mentors her about motives for murder, how to tell if someone is lying, etc. After she saves the inspector's life from a tiger and the two share stories of their families, Seol becomes devoted to Inspector Han. So when evidence is revealed that a man in the blue robe of the inspector was seen near the scene of the crime, Seol tries to help. But the mystery is complicated and Seol begins to wonder if the man she has grown to respect is guilty after all.

Sometimes my reviews cannot do justice to the complexity of the story and such is the case for the extraordinary historical mystery of The Silence of Bones. June Hur has woven countless characters, each with their own motivations revolving around class structure, religion, and family, into an intricate story in which the honourable may not be and the lowly may be of the highest integrity, and vice versa. Amidst the class hierarchy, largely based on birth, in which there are aristocrats, palchŏn (low class), and even baekjeongs (outcasts), June Hur's characters are real but flawed, looking for family and acknowledgement for their efforts, humble and otherwise. But among those characters is evil and...
"...evil comes from the unfulfilled need for significance." (pg. 192)
This is June Hur's debut novel and it is an accomplishment of plot and writing, taking readers into the Korean dynastic kingdom of Joseon at the turn of the 19th c., a time of Confucian traditions, prohibition of Western teachings, and the persecution of Catholics. From behind the covers of the book, you will cheer for those who looked beyond their station, ignoring censure–"This is what happens when a foolish girl thinks she can be someone of consequence. She creates chaos, utter chaos." (pg. 131)–and search for truths, to honour the dead and the living, while you suspect character after character of murder and misdeeds, never guessing where June Hur will take her story. The Silence of Bones has given us a new voice in YA CanLit for which I'll be listening from now on.

No comments:

Post a Comment