THE RED PALACE

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June Hur, critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls, returns with The Red Palace—a third evocative, atmospheric, & romantic historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.

To enter the palace means to walk a path stained in blood…

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, seventeen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.

THE RED PALACE releases on January 25, 2022

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Feiwel & Friends

Publishes: 01/25/2022

ISBN: 9781250800558

336 Pages, Ages 13-18

Praise for The Red Palace:

“Compulsively readable and utterly unique, The Red Palace is a must-read murder mystery steeped in royal intrigue.” —Jennifer Lynn Barnes, New York Times-bestselling author of The Inheritance Games, on The Red Palace

“Court politics and hierarchal society are the stunning backdrop of June Hur’s page-turning, atmospheric The Red Palace. Hur’s meticulous worldbuilding and immersive storytelling will have readers totally obsessed.” —Adrienne Young, New York Times-bestselling author of Fable

“A breathtaking journey through 1400s Korea. … The mystery complements the setting perfectly, and the conclusion is well-plotted and satisfying. … A must for all collections.” —School Library Journalstarred review, on The Forest of Stolen Girls

“This gripping drama is definitely one you’re not going to want to miss.” —Buzzfeed, on The Silence of Bones

“This standalone will have you racing to solve this mystery while also swooning for the blooming romance between our leads.” – Fae Crate “Mysterious Ways” January 2022

Excerpt

1

FEBRUARY 1758

“Follow me,” Physician Nanshin whispered, “and ask no questions.”

Moonlight drifted as quietly as falling snow, illuminating the pavilion roofs and the animal-shaped statues that lined the swooping eaves. Floor lanterns spilled golden light across the frosted courtyards, and against the latticed labyrinth of doors and windows. Silence reigned, except for the distant ring of the great bell, echoing through the capital and rumbling over Changdeok Palace. By the twenty-eighth ring, the palace gates would be bolted shut for the night.

As soon as the royal physician turned his back to us, Jieun and I exchanged wide-eyed stares.

Isn’t our shift over? she mouthed. Shouldn’t we be permitted to return home?

I flicked a nervous glance at the physician. This is very odd, I replied.

But what did we know of what was odd or unusual? We were both new to our positions as nae-uinyeos, nurses handpicked to serve in the palace.

“There isn’t a moment to spare.” The royal physician sounded breathless as he quickened his steps, his hands gathered within wide sleeves. His blue silk robe billowed like waves in a storm, his long apron as white as foam frothing atop a crashing sea. “We must hurry.”

Jieun and I hastened our steps accordingly. Our long shadows stretched out, of her holding a tray and me a lantern. We kept quiet this time, when normally we would have complained about our growling stomachs or our limbs tired from working all day. Things were different in the palace. No one acted like children here. Even royal children behaved like solemn and anxious elders.

In long and quick strides, we left the Royal Apothecary, located in the eastern corner of the palace, and traveled in a line from courtyard to courtyard, the sound of the great bell rolling after us. It tolled, slowly and repeatedly, for the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and finally, the twenty-eighth time. I could almost hear the main gates rumbling shut; it would be impossible to leave the palace now. Uneasiness settled into my bones, and the warnings I’d been given echoed through my mind.

To enter the palace means to walk a path stained in blood, our medical teachers had whispered. There will be bloodshed. I only hope it will not be yours.

The further south we traveled, the more deserted it became, until we were easily four li away from where I knew most of the royals dwelled. At least a half hour’s walk.

The shadows swamping the empty pavilions grew darker and darker; the fall of snow was no longer pocked with blue footprints, but untouched. Then at last, we passed through a guarded gate and entered a courtyard illuminated by lanterns. In the center lay a square lily pond, its frozen water reflecting the round, luminous moon and the black ridges of the guardian mountain.

I’d never come this way before.

A grand pavilion stood before the courtyard, a building with a long row of hanji-screened windows, rows of towering pillars, and an elaborate black-tiled roof. The wooden plaque hanging under the eaves read Joseung Pavilion. The main house in the Donggungjun compound.

The residence of the Crown Prince himself.

I had never seen the Crown Prince before, but I had heard gloomy whispers about Prince Jangheon. When he was born, it is said that the king—usually known for his rigid stoicism—had nearly tripped over his robe in his haste to hold his son. A most beautiful son, and his only surviving heir. The king had fallen so in love with the child that he’d rushed to formally establish him as the Crown Prince—a status that had come with a price. At only one hundred days old, the infant prince had been pulled from his mother’s embrace and moved to Joseung Pavilion to be raised completely by strangers in an isolated part of the palace. So far away from his parents that, after a while, he’d only seen them once a year. Now there were disturbing rumors about the neglected prince.

The time will come soon, I’d overheard a palace nurse say once, when the Crown Prince will be put to death, either by the hands of the Old Doctrine faction or his own father. Whispers that had immediately clamped into silence at the sight of Jieun and me, for we were new to the palace.

“Come.”

I blinked, my attention returning to Physician Nanshin. He gestured at us to quicken our pace further. We did so, following him past a row of court ladies, unmoving like statues. One young woman, however, watched us from under her lashes. Our eyes met, then her gaze quickly dropped. And yet I still felt as though we were being watched by a thousand more eyes.

My pulse beat as I set aside my lantern. We made our way up the steps onto the terrace, then into the pavilion, where tiered wooden doors slid open one by one, drawn by servants who moved as quietly as shadows, ushering us deeper until we reached the inner quarter. We were met by a eunuch, his face pale and fraught with distress.

“I know your day is over, uiwon-nim,” the eunuch whispered to the physician, “but it is urgent. The prince is in need of your assistance.”

My head was bowed, hiding the shock that widened my eyes. Since entering the palace, I had attended only to women—princesses, concubines, and court ladies. I had yet to assist physicians as they tended to male royals.

“Please, follow.” The eunuch hunched over as he accompanied us into a chamber enveloped in darkness, shadows lurking at the edges of glowing floor lanterns and candles. There were piles of books everywhere, haphazardly pushed aside. Two court ladies trembled before a finely woven bamboo screen; it hung from the ceiling, concealing a figure beyond it. At our entrance, they pulled the screen up, revealing a white-robed figure lying on a sleeping mat.

“Leave, both of you,” said a commanding female voice.

As the court ladies left, I snuck a glance at a woman sitting near the wall. It was Lady Hyegyoung, the wife of the Crown Prince; they were both twenty-three years of age, bound to each other since marriage at the age of nine. She looked immaculate as always, garbed in a silk gown dripping with luminous gold-threaded dragon medallions, and her smooth hair shone in the candlelight, tied into a perfectly thick coil at the nape of her neck and held in place by a golden rod. I had encountered her several times before at Chippok Hall. She seemed to prefer spending most of her time with her mother-in-law rather than here with her husband.

“His Highness has been feeling ill the past two days, and it is getting worse,” Lady Hyegyoung said, projecting her voice, as if she were not speaking to us but rather to those outside.

“Has His Royal Highness taken any medicine today?” Physician Nanshin asked.

“No. He seemed much better this morning, but then later in the afternoon, he fainted and has been indisposed since.”

The physician bowed his head. “I will inspect His Highness now.” He knelt before the young man, whose back was turned to us, and Jieun and I knelt behind the physician. The bedcover rustled, the sound of the Crown Prince rising into a sitting position with the assistance of his eunuch.

“Tell me, what is wrong with His Royal Highness?” Lady Hyegyoung asked. “He has expressed weakness and fatigue all day long.”

I couldn’t resist; I’d never seen the prince, not even from afar, for he spent most of his time training in the Forbidden Garden, honing his skills with sword and bow. Carefully, my gaze ran along His Highness’s sleeping robe, his wrist held out to the physician, the frail column of his throat … then paused before a wrinkled and frightened face.

I blinked.

I squeezed my eyes shut, then looked again. Nothing changed. I wasn’t hallucinating.

A wave of confusion struck me at the sight of an old man, a eunuch, dressed in the Crown Prince’s nightgown and sitting in the Crown Prince’s bed. He was not Prince Jangheon. Yet Physician Nanshin remained kneeling, nimble fingers on the imposter’s wrist, as though the eunuch were indeed the future king himself.

“His Royal Highness is feeling weak because his ki is weak.” The physician glanced over his shoulder, revealing a crescent of his face, sweat dribbling down his temple. “Nurse Jieun, bring the ginseng tea.”

Jieun remained frozen, staring ahead at the imposter prince. “E-Eunuch Im?” she whispered.

The physician shot a look at her, his face ashen. “Silence,” he hissed. Then he looked at me. “Nurse Hyeon, please bring the medicine.”

At once, I reached for Jieun’s tray, then rose to my feet, and to my horror, my hands were shaking. The tray wobbled, and I felt stares turn my way.

“You look flushed, Nurse Hyeon,” came Lady Hyegyoung’s lowered voice, “and rather flustered.”

I gripped the tray tighter, but it continued to rattle. “Begging your pardon, my lady.”

“I am told your birth name is Baek-hyeon.”

“Yeh, my lady.” I sounded breathless. “That is my name.”

“A name usually reserved for boys.”

I wanted to wipe my brow—never had a royal scrutinized me so. “When I was born, my mother’s disappointment was so great that she nevertheless gave me a son’s name.”

Her eyes watched me closely, and the air around me grew tight and painful; even the slightest movement hurt my skin. Then she whispered, “You look almost identical to the prince’s favorite sister, Princess Hwahyup. She is six years dead.”

My limbs remained frozen, not knowing whether this similarity was offensive to Her Ladyship or not. I didn’t realize that my muscles had knotted painfully until she looked away and at once my shoulders eased.

“And you are Jieun,” Lady Hyegyoung said, her voice still hushed. “Half cousin to the new police inspector.”

“Y-y-yeh,” Jieun stammered. “I a-am.”

I set the noisy tray down and returned to my spot behind the physician, kneeling on the floor and burying my sweaty hands in my skirt. I wanted to glance to my side, where Jieun knelt, but trepidation kept me still.

“I have summoned you two specifically for a reason.” Lady Hyegyoung slid a glance to the latticed doors as footsteps creaked on the other side of them. The silhouette of a court lady moved across, then disappeared. “Because you both share one thing in common.”

I finally glanced at Jieun. We were the same in age, having both just turned eighteen. We were both daughters of lowly concubines, and thus servant girls of impure blood, belonging to the cheonmin class—the lowest of the low. Only, Jieun’s father acknowledged her as his daughter, whereas mine considered me as irrelevant to him as his house servants.

“You are both newly selected palace nurses,” Lady Hyegyoung explained. “And before that, you were Hyeminseo nurses favored by Nurse Jeongsu. I trust that woman.”

I gripped my skirt tight. Jieun had to be as confused as I was.

“Nurse Jeongsu is a family friend. And Royal Physician Nanshin’s family is tied to mine. I hope I can trust you two as well, Jieun and Hyeon, for your mentor assured me of your trustworthiness.” Then a somber note dusked her voice. “I hope no one has recruited you as their spies already.”

“No, indeed not, my lady!” Jieun blurted out. “We would not dare—”

Her Ladyship placed a finger to her lips. “In the palace, you speak with a loud voice only when your words are public words; you must whisper when speaking private words. Everyone is listening in the palace. Everyone is spying for someone.” Her gaze then moved away from us and settled on the imposter prince. “Can I trust you, then?”

“Yeh,” Jieun and I replied together.

“Then continue to tend to His Royal Highness, and should the king summon him, you are to tell His Majesty that his son is indisposed still.”

She wanted us to lie—to the king himself?

This could mean our deaths.

It was difficult to breathe, but I bowed my head, and so did Jieun. It was our duty to obey. I continued to stare at the floor, listening to my thundering heartbeat and to the sound of silk rustling as Physician Nanshin tended to the imposter prince, performing for our silent audience.


Copyright © 2022 by June Hur