Sixteen-year-old Seol finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Assigned to the police bureau, she assists the young investigators with the murder of a noblewoman. As their investigation takes a darker turn, Seol’s loyalty begins to be tester when the inspector she admired becomes the prime suspect, and Seol might be the only person able to find the truth. But when her role as a damo requires silence and obedience, Seol’s curiosity might just be dangerous.
The Silence of Bones has been on my radar for months, and I’m annoyed at myself for taking so long to read this! This book was a fast-paced thriller that packed an emotional punch. I hadn’t realised how attached I had become to Seol until I turned the very last page. Set in 1800 Joseon (now Korea), Seol is a damo, an indentured servant, working for the police force as a female attendant who partakes in places where men were otherwise not allowed. While keeping her head down, she quietly searched for the whereabouts of her older brother, who had left for the capital years prior.
One day she called to handle the body of a noblewoman, Lady O, who was found dead with her nose sliced off. Questions begin to arise about Lady O’s status, later revealed to have been a Christian and soon she is linked to a police chase regarding the whereabouts of a priest. Seol’s position as a damo gives her a unique position, allowing her into spaces where her male counterparts would have been denied. Inspector Han might be the only person who sees something in her, promising her freedom if she takes the proper steps.
I was surprised this book was in the first person as it felt like a story that could’ve been told through the third. But Hur writes with ease and tells a story with excitement and mystery. Seol is so young, and it comes across on page very well. She was never taught to read and often makes misjudgments due to her upbringing, which naturally creates misunderstandings. People don’t take her seriously because she is a damo, and she is adamant to prove them wrong. Her development is consistent, and the pay off in the story is both worthwhile and heartbreaking. Inspector Han proved to be quite the enigma, his behaviour both confuse and exasperate Seol and us readers alike.
The story is fascinating. I had watched a k-drama back in 2019, called Rookie Historian Goo Haeryung. While the drama was more on the fantasy side, I really enjoyed the historical aspect, which is similar in this book as they both revolved around the start of Christianity in Korea. This isn’t taught in everyday History lessons, so I was intrigued by the characters that Seol meets that mirror real-life figures. Regent leaders are clamping down on the rise of Catholics in the country, families being ripped apart and executed, and how it has influenced Korea’s history and its current-day self. This book definitely sent me on a research haze from the moment I finished the story. In summary, The Silence of Bones illuminates Joseon Korea in this historical mystery tale. Seol’s journey takes on class, honour and loyalty to yourself and your family. I had an inkling of what the ending would be like, but Hur writes with such details and emotion that the journey towards it was well worth the time.