Goong: The Royal Palace 6 by Park SoHee: A-

goong6From the back cover:
Hoping to clear the air between Shin and Chae-Kyung, the ladies of the court pressure the young couple to get more intimate. But even a night together may not be enough to push the two close. Amid lingering suspicious of Shin’s involvement with Hyo-Rin, Yul takes the offensive in claiming not only his right to the throne, but to Chae-Kyung’s heart as well… Will her commitment to her husband and her duty as crown princess prevail?

In this volume, Shin and Chae-Kyung are forced to spend a night alone together by order of the queen mother, who buys into the theory that Chae-Kyung’s recent poor health is caused by problems in her relationship with Shin, and that by forcing them to consummate their marriage, those problems will immediately evaporate. Alas, things do not go as planned. Later developments include Yul admitting his feelings to Chae-Kyung, an attempt to gain more political power for the royal family, a subplot involving the girl Shin used to like, and the news that Chae-Kyung’s grandfather has cancer.

It’s really impossible to convey the awesomeness of Goong through a mere plot summary, because so much of the story is carried by the characters rather than the events. The night Shin and Chae-Kyung spend together is a fascinating example. When they’re first locked up together, Shin asks, “Are you scared? Do you think I’ll attack you?” Chae-Kyung, however, is more worried that she might attack him! Shin abruptly kills any mood that might’ve been brewing, though, when he says, “A man can sleep with a girl whom he doesn’t really like.” Readers can see that he’s developing feelings for her and just trying to protect himself by feigning detachment, but Chae-Kyung can’t. When he’s later moved by her eyes, which speak so honestly of her feelings for him, and tries to kiss her, she slaps him. Shin, of course, has no idea what he did wrong.

What a complicated and complex relationship! This is the sort of situation that two people, no matter how attracted they are to each other, would probably just give up on after failing time and again to truly connect. Shin and Chae-Kyung don’t have this option, however, and continue the pattern of hurting each other. Their struggle is both captivating and frustrating; it’s going to be so vastly rewarding once they finally work things out.

Shin’s insecurities and ignorance of a loving family come into play in the latter half of the volume, when he refuses to allow Chae-Kyung to visit her ailing grandfather. The excuse he gives is that she has duties to attend to, but he’s really worried that she’ll want to stay with her family rather than return to the miseries of palace life. Yul uses this situation to try to get on Chae-Kyung’s good side—suggesting that she get her marriage with Shin annulled and marry him instead since Shin’s dysfunctional upbringing makes him treat her badly—but only succeeds in strengthening her sympathies for Shin. The final scene suggests that Yul’s meddling might backfire on him even further, to which I say, in Nelson’s voice from The Simpsons, “Ha ha!”

An awful lot goes on in a single volume of Goong and all of it is wonderfully balanced and exciting to read. About the only flaw I could mention is that the unattractive artwork during comedic moments still persists. Because of this, I’ve never been able to award any volume a straight-out A, much as I have wanted to, because the random bits of ugly pull me out of the story. They don’t appear to be going anywhere, alas, so it looks like I’ll just have to resign myself to their presence.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Goong: The Royal Palace 5 by Park SoHee: B+

goong5With Shin off on an extended visit to England, Chae-Kyung is left alone in the palace with no allies except Prince Yul, whose interactions with her are half manipulative, half sincere. Her maids are concerned because she’s losing weight and refusing their herbal remedies; Chae-Kyung is more concerned about Shin’s coldness than her health, since he hasn’t returned any of her phone calls or e-mails. When Shin returns from England with scandal at his heels, their relationship is in for another rocky patch.

The strength of Goong continues to be the relationship between Shin and Chae-Kyung; their scenes together are riveting and Shin’s tentative steps toward more gentle treatment of Chae-Kyung are wonderful to see. Unfortunately, this means that the scenes in which they are separated are not as interesting in comparison, especially the more comedic parts, like some strange pages detailing the visiting Prince William’s friendship with the wizened palace eunuch. One notable exception is the wonderful moment in which we see Chae-Kyung’s parents, whose visit with their daughter has been cancelled by Yul’s mother, watching her on television and marveling at her new composure and confidence while simultaneously finding it somehow sad.

Goong really is a terrific series. Each time I finish a volume I wish I had the next.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Goong: The Royal Palace 4 by Park SoHee: A-

A promise between their grandfathers leads to the wedding of regular girl Chae-Kyung to the crown prince, Shin. Their relationship was antagonistic at first, but Chae-Kyung eventually realizes she’s fallen for the mercurial prince while formerly friendless Shin gets a taste of what it feels like to have someone always by his side.

In this volume, the thawing of relations between the married couple continues while unforeseen political enemies grow in power. By wrangling to have a posthumous honor bestowed upon her late husband, Shin’s aunt earns a place for herself in the palace with the power to make Chae-Kyung’s life miserable. Both the romantic and political aspects to the story are interesting, and I’m continually impressed with Park SoHee’s ability to make a simple conversation between two people such a riveting thing.

Particularly worthy of praise is the development of Shin’s cousin, Yul. When initially introduced, Yul was a sympathetic character, a former royal grandson who lost his title, his home, and his fiancée to Shin upon the death of his father. The gradual revelation of his sly manipulation of Chae-Kyung has been well done, throwing new light on all of their prior, seemingly innocent, interactions.

One minor flaw the series possesses is the unattractive artwork that crops up during comedic moments. Most of the time the art is very pretty, though, and it’s true that these ugly episodes are occurring less frequently as the series progresses. I also wasn’t keen on the gag occurring at the end of the volume.

With its engaging characters, (generally) attractive art, and political intrigue, Goong has me pretty well hooked. How long ‘til volume five?

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Goong: The Royal Palace 3 by Park SoHee: B+

From the back cover:
Chae-Kyung and Shin return to their separate quarters at the palace, but the crown princess can’t shake the feelings aroused by her new husband. Try as she might, there’s no denying it—she’s completely fallen for him! When Chae-Kyung lets a confession slip, she braces herself for the prince’s rejection. Instead, he doesn’t even acknowledge her! Though the suspense is killing Chae-Kyung, does she really want to know what Shin has to say?

This series kind of reminds me of Newton’s third law of physics. No, really. This law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In volume two, the relationship between Shin and Chae-Kyung was on a pretty even, if antagonistic, course. In this volume, matters first swing one way, as they seem to be getting closer. In one particularly nice conversation, Shin admits that he’s jealous of the closeness of Chae-Kyung’s family and also says that he feels closer to her than anyone. The pendulum then heads back in the opposite direction, with Shin behaving rather cruelly to both Chae-Kyung and his former girlfriend. Because of Shin’s nastiness, I just couldn’t like this volume as much as its predecessor.

I was kind of disappointed with how the cliffhanger from volume two was resolved, but I guess it’s too soon for that kind of thing to go anywhere squee-inducing. It’s kind of frustrating seeing all these covers and splash pages of the main couple being affectionate, because it’s probably going to take a long time for the story to actually get to that point. As the back cover blurb points out, Chae-Kyung does (after some annoying pseudo-confessions done in jest) end up telling Shin how she feels about him. Alas, it’s this that seems to spur him into cruelty, as he threatens to answer the question of whether he still loves his ex in front of both the ex and Chae-Kyung, not to mention a bunch of witnesses at Yul’s birthday party. Chae-Kyung reacts impulsively to her strong desire not to hear the answer, and though she makes a pretty big mistake, I was sympathetic to her sudden fear to know.

This volume also introduces new levels of political intrigue, which I always appreciate. Yul’s late father was the original crown prince, and his mother is now spearheading a campaign to get him posthumously declared King. This will give her a rank called daebi, which will allow her to move into the castle and have a say in how things are done. Her main goal, however, is to restore Yul to his place as the rightful crown prince. Meanwhile, there’s also some romance drama among the older generation, as it’s hinted that Shin’s parents have never loved each other, and his mother is made miserable by knowing that his father was once, and might still be, in love with Yul’s mother. Lastly, Shin concludes the volume by announcing that he intends to relinquish his crown prince duties in a few years.

Oh, teh drama!

Goong: The Royal Palace 2 by Park SoHee: A-

From the back cover:
With the wedding ceremony complete, Chae-Kyung and Prince Shin are finally newlyweds… but now they have to spend their first night together! And, as she tries to get accustomed to life as a princess, homesick Chae-Kyung finds no comfort in her haughty husband who seems determined to antagonize her at every turn. Will the crown prince’s attitude ever change? Is the dream of marital bliss doomed to be a nightmarish marital blunder?!

As much as I enjoyed volume one, this volume is even better.

It begins by outlining the procedures of a traditional Korean wedding, including a nifty scene where Shin and Chae-Kyung are being conveyed across town via palanquins through a very modern downtown area. Cool as this is, it’s what happens next that’s truly worthy of praise. There are a few chapters that consist almost solely of conversations between Shin and Chae-Kyung and they are absolutely fascinating. They’re both very complex characters with their own way of looking at things, and even though Shin does seem to do more than his share of the antagonizing, Chae-Kyung is also pretty prickly at times. Still, even though there’s a lot of bickering going on, it’s never frustrating to read.

There’s also not as much comedy this time, which I appreciated, since the art during those segments is so unappealing. Still, the comedy in this series is pretty amusing, as it grows from the story rather than interrupts dramatic moments. A great example is the scene where Shin and Chae-Kyung, about to spend the afternoon smiling for the public as they ride along a parade route, practice mouth-stretching exercises beforehand. It’s basically a two-page spread of them contorting their faces in amusing ways and is very cute.

Lastly, I am enjoying the further development of the other prince, Yul. His late father was older brother to Shin’s father, and so was the original Crown Prince. In fact, when the old king and Chae-Kyung’s grandmother promised that their grandchildren would marry, it was actually Yul that the old king had in mind. When Yul’s dad died, however, the line of succession shifted to Shin’s dad and ultimately to Shin himself. Yul’s nicer, if more melancholy, than Shin and since volume one has remarked more than once on Chae-Kyung’s cuteness. There’s a nice scene between Yul and Chae-Kyung in this volume and one can’t help but think how much happier they both would be if the marriage had taken place as originally conceived. There’s a great part at the end when Yul watches the happy couple drive off after school, in which he says, “You’re in my seat.”

Also, the end of this volume—involving Chae-Kyung’s growing physical attraction to Shin—leaves one very eager to read the next. Luckily, I have it on hand.

Goong: The Royal Palace 1 by Park SoHee: B+

I reviewed the first volume of this long-running manhwa for Comics Should Be Good. Check it out!

This volume was published by ICE Kunion in May of 2006, after which the series languished in licensing limbo. After a delay of over two years, volume two was published by Yen Press in July of 2008 and the series has been coming out every few months since then. As of January 2009, there are currently 18 volumes published in Korea.