A little over a month ago, one of Heart & Seoul’s readers left a message saying she was enjoying Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung and suggested I give it a try. Since it had been on my “want to see” list I decided to make it my next watch and found I agreed wholeheartedly with her comment of it being “fantastic.”
The story takes place in the capital city of Hanyang during the Joseon Dynasty. Females are finally given the opportunity to take the civil service exam for a chance to become the country’s first women historians. Four deserving ladies are handpicked by the Crown Prince to begin their apprenticeship but things turn out to be much more difficult than any of them had imagined. These women end up having to battle more than just prejudice and tradition in their fight to prove they can record history just as well as any male.
When Goo Hae-Ryung was only six years old her father was executed for treason. In order to keep her safe, her teenage brother took her to Qing where they lived for several years before returning to Joseon. At 26 Hae-Ryung is well past marrying age but she’s not really interested in being a wife and mother right now. Learning is what occupies her mind and she enjoys spending her days reading both for pleasure and for profit, often reading books aloud for money. Hae-Ryung is one of the young women chosen to be an apprentice historian at the Office of Royal Decrees and is affectionately described as being “…as stubborn as an ox and as courageous as a general.”
The people of Joseon are enamored with a romance novelist known simply as Maehwa and everyone is clamoring to get their hands on his newest book, Moonlight Love Affair, volume three, the last of the series! No one knows this secretive author is really the prince of their nation, Prince Yi-Rim, who has spent his entire life shut away at Nokseodang in his own little corner within the palace walls. Having never ventured into the outside world, Yi Rim is naïve and totally clueless about real life. He has also been kept out of politics and knows nothing about the affairs of the kingdom. Although he is a prince, he treats his eunuch and two handmaidens more like friends than servants.
Min Woo-Won is the Second State Counselor’s son. He is admired by most everyone for being a man of great character and integrity. He is handsome and very intelligent, entering Sungkyunkwan when he was only 15 years old and the palace at 18. Some say Woo-Won is like a rock because he lacks flexibility and often comes across to those that don’t know him well as being cold-hearted. He goes by the rules and honors his position as First Historian. He silently lives with a broken heart due to the fact that his beloved wife committed suicide because of his own father’s lies and greed.
Yi Jin is the first-born son of King Yi Tae and, as such, is the Crown Prince of Joseon. He and Min Woo-Won have been friends since they were young, eventually becoming brothers-in-law when Woo-Won’s younger sister was chosen to be Yi Jin’s wife, the future queen of Joseon. The royal couple has been married for ten years but because it was an arranged marriage without love playing a factor in their union, the marriage has never been consummated which means no heir to the throne. His Royal Highness adores his little brother, Prince Yi Rim, and is very protective of him. Yi Jin is wise, just, kind, has a sympathetic heart, and sincerely wants what is best for his people – perfect future King material.
King Yi Tae obtained his position when the previous king was murdered during a treasonous takeover twenty years ago. He is content to allow his beloved Crown Prince son to rule the kingdom most of the time. He has no patience with Prince Yi Rim, having hidden him away at Nokseodang since he was very young, and barely tolerates the young man. King Yi Tae’s closest friend and advisor is Second State Counselor Min Ik-Pyeong.
Eunuch Heo Sam-Bo has raised His Royal Highness Yi Rim and thinks of him as a son and friend as well as a prince. He is encouraging, kind, and helpful.
Yang Si-Haeng is the Head Historian (the boss) at the Office of Royal Decrees. Song Sa-Hee, Oh Eun-Im, and Heo Ah-Ran are the other women chosen to be apprentice historians alongside Goo Hae-Ryung. Sa-Hee is appointed to be the person to record Crown Prince Yi Jin’s daily activities and, as a result, gets to know him well and falls in love with the man.
Power, wealth, and position mean more to Second State Counselor Min Ik-Pyeong than anything else, including his own son. He was the man in charge of the plot that overthrew the king 20 years previous and has a tight hold on the current king. He was instrumental in having Song Sa-Hee assigned to the Office of Royal Decrees as an apprentice historian so that she could have access to important information and report directly to him about things that go on inside the palace. The man is evil to the core.
Goo Jae-Gyeong is Hae-Ryung’s older brother. He has protected and provided for Hae-Ryung ever since her father died. Jae-Gyeong adores his little sister and wants the best for her. He is a nobleman, holding the office of Third Inspector in the royal government.
Twenty years ago, Mo-Hwa was a teenage girl learning western medicine practices. Why is it Second State Counselor Min will only be comfortable when she is dead?
Shin Se-Kyung plays the title character, Goo Hae-Ryung. You can read about her in my Black Knight: The Man Who Guards Me review.
For information about Cha Eun-Woo, the actor who plays Prince Yi Rim, you can go to my review of My ID is Gangnam Beauty. In that review I mention he is a handsome guy playing a somber role and admit to being anxious to see him in something that would allow him to smile more. Well, this is it. His smile (as Prince Yi Rim) just melts your heart!
I have to give credit to the casting director for his/her choice concerning Cha Eun-Woo as Prince Yi Rim and Park Ki-Wong as Crown Prince Yi Jin. The two are absolutely perfect for their role and their brotherly chemistry is warm and convincing. I was so impressed with how well both men played their parts. I respected Crown Prince Yi Jin and thought Prince Yi Rim was innocent and sweet. Excellent, excellent acting!
I have been an avid journal writer and was a reporter on my school paper so this drama was very interesting to me. I was amazed at how those ruling Joseon knew how vitally important correct records would be for the future of their people. The historians were regarded as keepers of time and, as such, were not subject to all of the king’s decrees. Even the highest ruler of the nation was not allowed access to some of the records. What they wrote was considered sacred and even the king was not allowed to alter a record. I thought that was awesome!
This drama has several little sub-plots that keep the story moving along nicely.
Censorship: Second State Counselor Min gets King Yi Tae to go along with a book banning crusade.
Vaccinations: When a smallpox epidemic breaks out, Prince Yi Rim is sent into the thick of things as a emissary for the royal family.
Religion: A Westerner appears in Joseon and all Catholics are in danger of being put to death.
Marriage: The Queen Dowager decides it’s time to find a bride for Prince Yi Rim.
How King Yi Tae Came to Power: Why was the previous king murdered?
Power: King Yi-Tae seeks to usurp the authority of the historians.
Multi-musically talented Henry Lau sings the darling song Fall in Luv, a playful yet seductive sounding song. His voice is perfect, singing over cute little finger-snaps. We’re so lucky to have Cha Eun-Woo (Prince Yi Rim) serenade us with the beautiful ballad Please Remember. The show’s soundtrack is excellent.
This drama is absolutely gorgeous. Like all Kdramas set during ancient times, Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung’s backgrounds are beautiful. The palace is stunning, Nokseodang has a quaint yet lovely feel about it, the Office of Royal Decrees has a back room filled with tons of books and scrolls, the city streets are colorful and bustling, the beach and forest scenes are pretty… it’s all a visual feast.
I want to end this review with a big thanks to Heart & Seoul user Mimi for writing and encouraging us to see Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung. It is definitely 20 hours well spent for any Kdrama lover.
Original plot/subject matter
Interesting sub-plots that keep the story moving
Perfect casting/acting with Cha Eun-Woo as Prince Yi Rim and Park Ki-Wong as Crown Prince Yi Jin
One tiny “oops”