Review by Booklist Review
In 1800 Joseon Korea, Seol is a police damo, a low-class servant who acts as an officer in cases that involve women (as the law states men cannot interview or handle female victims). When she's called to examine the body of the young noblewoman Lady O, Seol, whose curiosity often gets her into trouble, wins the respect of Inspector Han, with whom she's partnered. As she investigates, secrets emerge regarding private affairs and ties to Catholicism, the practice of which is illegal, and when Han becomes a prime suspect, Seol must determine where her loyalties truly lie. In this striking debut, Hur has crafted an intriguing historical mystery set in a time period often overlooked in YA (an author's note explains more about the era), populated with a gender-norm-defying main character and real-life people in tertiary roles, all adding authenticity to the plot. A compelling mystery for lovers of Victorian murder cases who are ready for an alternative to the London setting.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Debut author Hur's gritty mystery, set in the Joseon dynasty of 1800, centers Seol, a 16-year-old indentured servant to the Hanyang police. When the daughter of a high-ranking government official is found dead with her nose sliced off, Seol's curiosity and impetuousness lead the enigmatic Inspector Han to recognize her sleuthing skills and promise post-investigation freedom if she cooperates. But things are not what they seem, and Seol's own memories--of her father's death; her mother's suicide; and of her kind older brother, missing for 12 years--keep interfering with her duties. Hur builds suspense artfully, offering a noir-tinged atmosphere of late nights, mist-shrouded streets, and clandestine meetings. The Korean concept of han, as well as customs, language, and politics, are woven flawlessly into the narrative, which is firmly grounded in the novel's historical basis: looming Catholic persecution, the Shinyu Bakhae of 1801. The reader is often one step ahead of the narrator, and some readers may wish to steer clear due to scenes of abuse and torture. Still, Seol's determined pursuit of literacy and freedom, as well as the bittersweet ending, make for a memorable and worthwhile read. Ages 13--up. (Apr.)
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Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 9 Up--Can a poor, illiterate orphan girl in the late 1700s make a difference in the patriarchal and conservative society of Korea? Sixteen-year-old Seol's parents have died, and as the youngest of three siblings, she has been sent to Hanyang, the capital of the southern province of the Korean peninsula, to work and to look for her long-lost brother who is assumed dead. Placed in the police bureau, she assists in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders that are stumping lead Inspector Han. While Seol tries not to overstep her position of damo, or servant, her natural curiosity gets the best of her and she meddles in the investigation. Supposed to be "seen but not heard," Seol exposes several important clues, enraging other officers who cannot handle an illiterate maid uncovering the truth before they do. Seol also finds signs that her brother is still alive and in the capital. This book is beautifully written, and moves at a brisk pace. While some of the vocabulary surrounding the culture, garments, and daily lives may be new for some readers, it will not hinder their immersion in the story. Despite some fairly grisly scenes, the plot is engaging and dynamic. VERDICT Hur's first novel does an excellent job of exploring a topic that isn't found widely in YA literature.--Carol Youssif, Taipei American School, Taiwan
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