The Silence of Bones by June Hur

Posted July 15, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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The Silence of Bones

The Silence of Bones

by June Hur

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends on April 21, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Target Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.

 

There is no book in the YA genre like The Silence of Bones.

That alone is enough reason to pick up June Hur’s startling debut.  The Silence of Bones, set in 18th century Korea, opens up a world in fiction that has no comparison.  We speak about lack of representation in YA.  There is so little Korean representation, less from OwnVoices authors, and absolutely none (that I know of) that are murder mysteries in a historical fiction context.  So, before I say anything else, I encourage everyone to give The Silence of Bones the benefit of the doubt.  Give it a read, and get it out there in the world.  It deserves a fighting chance.

As for my personal experience… this is a struggle.  On the one hand, June Hur’s research is impeccable. I know absolutely nothing about 18th century Korea, but my background in history has taught me enough to be able to see when people are modernizing historical narratives and The Silence of Bones remains constant and believable. While I’m not versed in Korean history and can’t speak to the actual accuracy, it feels really well done.

The plot, however, lost a few points from me.  This is a tricky thing, as far as mysteries go.  A lot of this ended up being very predictable.  In other genres, predictable storylines are less off-putting because there’s more of a journey.  However, mysteries are so plot-driven, that the weight of the story is a bit heavier.  If I wasn’t able to predict the outcome – on multiple levels – I think I would have enjoyed the overall story more.

Our main character, Seol, has an interesting backstory, but there wasn’t a lot of emotional depth to the character.  To any of the characters.  Still, I’ve been thinking about that a little with The Silence of Bones because I want to make sure I’m conscientious about things like saying “a lack of relatability”.  I mean, in this context, I don’t really expect Seol to be relatable – it’s historical fiction, and it’s a completely different culture than mine.  Additionally, the mystery genre tends to have characters that are less emotionally accessible and more pragmatic.  So I’m not sure if the way the characters were written is indicative of the actual character development, or just the genre or culture itself, so I don’t want to judge it too harshly.  The characters didn’t hit home for me, but that could be saying lot more bout my privilege than June Hur’s writing.

The Silence of Bones is a very slow-paced book.  For those who enjoy the slow burn, that’s amazing.  It’s an intentional slow pace, to let the detail sink in.  For me, I don’t really like slow-paced books because they don’t hold my attention most the time.  That’s nothing against the book, just my ability to sit still.

I know this review sounds pretty critical, but I am honestly really excited that The Silence of Bones is out there in the world.  As a whole, I think it’s a really incredible offering to the community and to the YA genre, and I’m super excited to read The Forest of Stolen Girls next year.  Even though The Silence of Bones isn’t really a book I loved genre-wise, I really liked all the elements that made it unique and special, and I’ll be keeping an eye on June Hur and her future releases.

Additionally, as an extra, between the book and especially the author’s note, I’m interested in learning more about Joeson (Korea) and the Princess and Lady Kang, who inspired this novel.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★

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The Silence of Bones Will Be Donated

For as much as I appreciate and respect The Silence of Bones, it isn’t a book that I will read again.  For me, there’s two elements to this decision.  I gave this book four stars overall, so it’s certainly within my “keeper” requirements.  But if I’m real with myself, it’s not a book I’m going to read again.

For starters, the desire not to reread is partially based on its nature as a mystery – I know the ending, so the plot isn’t going to pull me back in, in a genre where the big appeal is to figure out the whodunnit.  Second, the pacing was super rough for me.  It’s consistent, it’s well-done, but because of my person reading preferences, it was a chore.  I like medium-paced books, but leaning on the edge of fast-paced books.  Slow-paced ones require a little something extra to hold my attention, and personally, I tend to only find that in fantasy.

That all said, I’m making the tricky decision to unhaul The Silence of Bones.  I’m really really hoping that when I bring it to the library, it’ll be one of those books that stays on the shelves and is available to the community, rather than being resold to raise money for the library.  It’s wonderful rep and I really appreciate it for that, and it would be great to have it on the shelf and accessible to many instead of relegating it to just one person.

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Can you recommend any other #OwnVoices books by Korean authors?  It’s an area I haven’t adequately explored, and I’d love to read more if you have any great suggestions?  Please know that I am not asking you to educate me, just if you have any favorites, I’d like to hear about them. 🙂

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