The fifth volume of the manhwa Goong finds crown prince Shin visiting the royal family of England. Left behind in Korea, Chae-Kyung grows more and more lonely–and ever more vulnerable to the schemes of the Yul’s mother, the new daebi. Will new rounds of scandal bring the young royal couple closer together, or will they push them even further apart?This review copy was my first taste of this popular manhwa series. Normally starting a manhwa or manga series at volume 5 is a pretty good recipe for confusion, but in this case, I was lucky. I was already familiar with the characters and story from watching some of the 2006 Korean television drama adapted from the manhwa. (The tv drama is known in the US market as Palace: Princess Hours; you can rent it from Netflix.) So I had no problems following the plot, despite not having read any of the previous four volumes.
There’s a lot to like about Goong. The premise, of course, is pretty much tailor-made for soap opera. The manhwa follows the arranged marriage of a commoner teen girl (Chae-Kyung) to the crown prince of Korea (Shin) in an alternate history where modern Korea is a constitutional monarchy. As princess, Chae-Kyung is a fish out of water; meanwhile, Shin is unhappy about giving up his girlfriend (Hyo-Rim) and uncomfortable about the reappearance of his cousin and political rival (Yul). In short, there is enough intrigue and romantic angst for three manhwa series here. And Park takes full advantage of the setup in her art. I especially love her detailed drawings of the characters in their court garb, and the many moments where Park juxtaposes the traditions of the royal court against modern Korean life. The cover illustration is a perfect example of this: Chae-Kyung may be wearing an elaborate hanbok fit for a princess, but she is also talking on a cellphone and holding a teddy bear.
Unfortunately, this particular volume doesn’t always live up to the promise of the premise. The latest rounds of royal intrigue are clearly wearing down Chae-Kyung, and by the end of the volume, I as a reader was feeling almost as downtrodden as our poor heroine. Chae-Kyung doesn’t catch many breaks in these chapters, and the characters’ relationships generally seem to be stuck in a holding pattern. A lot is happening, but not much is changing. This makes for a slightly repetitive reading experience. The uneven writing does not help matters. Park is much better at angst than comedy, which means the occasional scenes of comic relief do not actually lighten the mood very much at all.
Volume 5 does end on an interesting note, and volume 6 promises to have some major developments in store for Chae-Kyung and Shin. I’ll offer a qualified recommendation for this series based on this volume, and hope that volume 6 manages to capitalize on the soap opera potential a little better than volume 5 did.
Review copy provided by Yen Press. The volume features color pages at the front of the book and a brief preview of Goong, vol. 6.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com