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Literature / The Silence of Bones

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"I have a mouth, but I mustn't speak. Ears, but I mustn't hear. Eyes, but I mustn't see."

Let me tell you something about the capital, newcomer. The one thing everyone wants is power, To gain it or to stabilize it. What use has a damo to know such things?
Officer Kyŏn to Seol.

1800, Joseon.note 

Orphaned and homesick, Sixteen-year-old Seol has been indentured to the police bureau and made into a damo, a female officer/servant girl, where she is tasked with assisting the well-respected Inspector Han in an investigation involving a murdered noblewoman. As they delve deeper into the dead woman's secrets. Seol and Han form an unlikely friendship with one another, but this loyalty is put to the test when he becomes the main suspect for the murder, with Seol becoming the only one capable of discovering what happened on that fateful night. But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

Released on April 21st, 2020, The Silence Of Bones is a YA historical mystery novel and the debut of author June Hur, and is the first in a series of novels set throughout Korean History. The next two novels, The Forest Of Stolen Girls, and The Red Palace, were released in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

This novel has examples of the following tropes:

  • Bittersweet Ending: The investigation is resolved with Officer Shim Jaedeok being arrested for the murders of Lady O, Scholar Ahn, the shaman and his own mother, with Woorim being saved. However, Inspector Han ends up dying from his wounds, with Lady Kang being executed for being Catholic. Seol is sent home to live with her sister but finds life in the country not what she had hoped for, and is asked to come back to the capital to join the Bureau once more.
  • Cats Are Mean: Early on, a tiger attacks the inspector's party on Mount Inwang while searching for Maid Soyi. Seol is forced to take Kyŏn's bow to save the Inspector's life but is nearly killed by the big cat.
  • Illegal Religion: All throughout the novel, catholicism is treated as heresy to the mostly Buddist/Confucian capital, with anyone suspected of converting being arrested, tortured, forced to apostate their beliefs or be executed. Inspector Han holds a particular hatred towards Catholics, due to his own father being converted by Priest Zhou Wenmo and being executed for it. Real Life Writes the Plot, as the novel takes place around the same time as, and is inspired by, the 1801 Shinyu Bakhae, which saw 300 Catholics being beheaded.
  • Jerkass: Officer Kyŏn from start to finish.
  • Mysterious Past: Inspector Han mostly keeps to himself, with only small details being revealed about him, such as once having a younger sister who died years before, and him being an orphan sent into exile like Seol. She finds out later that the Inspector was in fact her older brother, who left their home to find and kill Zhou Wenmo and leaving his two sisters behind to a life of misery and servitude, while also leading Seol to believe he was dead. Understandably, she is incredibly upset when she finds out.
  • The Noseless: Played for Drama All the victims of the killer, including Lady O and later Scholar Ahn, have had their noses cut off with a knife, which puzzles the investigators. It's later revealed by the killer, Officer Shim Daejeok, that he cut their noses to remind himself they were heretics. He also cuts off Woorim's nose, but she is saved by Seol.