I can’t tell if depression took everything from me or if there’s still something left. I don’t care. I’m going to live either way. I’m going to keep doing the things I love and find new ones. I’m going to write again. Without further ado–
You know that thing where two murdery angstbots use state-mandated violence to inflict their daddy issues on the rest of the world (and each other, ooh la la! I can’t stay emo for long)? This is not that quite that book. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was about that until I exited out of my nookbook (because fuck Amazon, that’s why). This is a classy book. With a few exceptions, classy books do not typically honor this blog. Ever since college wrung my brain into shreds, I have been incapable of comprehending anything more complex than Twilight. When I do read ‘classics,’ they’re the trashfires of last century. Or I’m just incapable of admitting that anything I like is literary.
Plot: Seol is a damo, a female indentured servant who was sometimes used as a police officer in Joseon-era Korea. As the book explains, when crimes involve women, men’s investigations are limited by propriety. In a strict Confucian society, women are needed to go places and ask questions men can’t. Seol has already tried to run away back to her sister and has been branded for it. Enter Inspector Han, Seol’s superior and patron, who admires her deductive skills and drive to find the truth. Inspector Han seems like Seol’s second chance to prove herself, but she starts to doubt herself and everyone else as Catholics are being murdered in seemingly unsolvable cases. And the queen is about to launch a new spate of religious persecution.
This is actual good, literary historical fiction, which I haven’t read since I was a high schooler on a mission to devour the entire contents of a tiny library in a dead-end Texas town. It feels like old-school Katherine Patterson, and that is one of the highest compliments I can give. The reason it’s not a trashfire is that it’s not about the murdery angstbots, it’s about the underling who deals with them. In most stories about beautiful men who do bad things, they’re so glamorized and justified that even condemnation from characters who have no reason to put up with their bad behavior is obligatory, or not there at all.
This book feels more like a deconstruction of Beautiful Men Doing Bad Things and Getting Away with Them. The heroine (and me, I always go for honorable stoic types) is taken in by the glamor at first and completely idolizes one of them and highly respects the other until it becomes apparent what these two are willing to do and WHY OH JESUS CHRIST THAT IS SO (again, state-mandated violence to solve daddy issues. Not a good look unless you’re the romance novel heroine in love with them). I’m trying really hard not to spoil it! I foresaw NOTHING about the plot, I legit had no idea who the villain was until the heroine figured it out.
So, two things: June Hur is so skillful that I only realized this after I finished reading: Inspector Han has the exact same goals as the villain, with maybe more of an emotional stake (but not really). The only difference is that he only pursues legal means. Literally, that’s it. Ordinarily, that would be a satisfying cop show (“vigilantism has no oversight and therefore there’s more chance of getting the wrong person” or some other moral). But what about when the state itself is killing the innocent? In a situation like that, legality and righteousness are all in the timing. The villain murders and tortures people sooner than Inspector Han is ordered to. That’s it. In the beginning of the book, Seol wants to be like Inspector Han and follows him around like a puppy. But to succeed in a system as brutal as this, you can’t be just and righteous ALL the time, and Inspector Han begins to show cracks. Seol begins to suspect him instead…
Second: This book is about family members who disappoint you, who disagree with you, who hurt you. Does that mean they’re not family? Does that mean you abandon them? Again, no spoilers, but the resolution to these questions is so beautiful, understated, and real. Seol takes a path that I might not (or maybe I absolutely would), but it’s something I could see someone else doing and it’s a choice I respect.
I want to say a lot more, but I can’t because spoilers. So go read it! And tell me what you think if you’re still here and not a tumbleweed.