Add “Gilded” to your reading list

April 3, 2014

Christina L. Farley’s YA novel puts an interesting twist on Korean mythology 


“Gilded” is an exciting novel that puts a twist on Korean mythology.

By Julie Carlson

A new YA novel, “Gilded” by Christina L. Farley, explores the legendary story of Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa set in modern day Seoul.

Why did an American writer decide to write a book set in Korea?

“They say write what you know. So I wrote about the students at my school and the world I was living in,” Farley said. “Plus, I was tired of there was such a limited selection of books that my Korean American students could relate to. I wanted to write a fast-paced Asian novel for an American teen.”

Farley never began writing with the intention to get published. She used the medium as an outlet to get the ideas out of her head and onto paper. She came up with the concept of “Gilded” while she was teaching at Seoul Foreign School in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. Farley and her husband, also from the U.S., taught there for eight years.

At the time, Farley was working on a mythology comparison study which fueled the fire for the inspiration behind her novel.

“As a teacher, I was always a good storyteller. It was one of my tricks to get my students to learn about the world in a new way,” Farley said. “So now as an author, my vision for my books remains the same: to bring inspiration to children and cause people to see the world in a new light.”

“Gilded” is about a Korean American teen, Jae Hwa Lee, who has recently moved to Seoul with her father.


Christina L. Farley came up with the concept of “Gilded” while she was teaching at Seoul Foreign School in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul.

She feels lost in the capital without her mother who died prior to the move. Jae Hwa’s strict grandfather who lives in Incheon wants her sent back to the United States. Jae Hwa misses her beloved Los Angeles where she grew up, so she’s ready to pack her bags.

But why does Jae Hwa’s grandfather want her to leave so badly? He keeps saying she’s not safe. How can this be when Seoul is one of the safest cities in the world? There’s not much crime. Kids ride the subways at night. The excitement of Seoul is starting to rub off on Jae Hwa. She’s making friends at Seoul Foreign School and crushing on fellow student, Marc Grayson. Jae Hwa also finds comfort in her Tae Kwon Do and archery lessons. But when she finds out the reason her grandfather wants her to leave, Jae Hwa’s world is turned upside down.

As a child, Jae Hwa’s mother read stories of Korean mythology and folklore to her, but Jae Hwa never imagined in a million years she was connected to one of them. She is related to Princess Yuhwa who was promised in marriage to the Sun diety, Haemosu, but escaped his clutches before the ceremony. There are many accounts surrounding the legend of Haemosu. The most widely known myth is woven into the plot of “Gilded.”

As the legend goes, Haemosu descended from heaven in chariot pulled by five dragons. On earth, he spotted three beautiful women near the Yalu River where their father, the water deity, Habaek, lived.

Upon seeing their beauty Haemosu set out to make one of the women his queen, even building a luxurious palace to lure them by his side. Suspicious of Haemosu’s true intentions, Haebak challenged him to a shape-shifting match, turning into animals. Haemosu won, but Haebak ended up tricking him, with Haemosu going back to heaven without Yuhwa. In “Gilded,” Haemosu’s been searching for a replacement by taking the soul of every eldest daughter in Jae Hwa’s family…and Jae Hwa’s soul is next.

“Gilded” is an exciting novel that puts a twist on Korean mythology. Jae Hwa is a strong character who is likable and funny, yet obstinate. But Jae Hwa also has self-doubts and weaknesses. She feels like a real person and a “fish out of water” in Seoul, the theme Farley was going for. Farley wanted to show how all teens face the concepts of where they fit into the world, who they are, and what is their purpose.

“Jae Hwa was inspired when I started thinking about ‘what happens next’ in the Haemosu and Princess Yuhwa myth,” Farley said. “Many of our students at [Seoul Foreign School] had difficulty coming from the US school system to our school so we had to incorporate those issues. International schools are very different from the public schools in the U.S. so I had a lot of fun identifying those issues.”

Farley’s research on the Spirit World of Korea, Korean mythology and history is clear from the beginning of the novel to the end. She interviewed experts in the field at Yonsei University and visited locales in the novel, such as Gyeongbok Palace which is the inspiration for Haemosu’s palace.

“I took tedious notes on all the palaces of the region as well as visited all the museums Seoul has to offer,” Farley said. “My little notebook for “Gilded” is full of drawings, lists, designs, and notes from my outings.”

“Gilded” is also littered with Korean words in Romanization, with a handy guide to their meanings at the back. But as for her own Korean, well, Farley says it’s terrible because it’s full of Southern twang.

“A taxi driver once told me my Korean was such a disgrace to the language, would I please stop speaking it,” Farley laughed.

One aspect that adds to the novel’s intrigue is the secondary characters, from Jae Hwa’s grandfather to Marc, are supportive and smart. “Marc, the love interest in the book, was a fun character to write,” Farley said. “Jae and Marc go to the same school and know each other before the book begins, which was important for me to show rather than the instant love.”

As for setting in the novel, Farley’s descriptions of Seoul come to life within the pages of “Gilded.”

Farley lived in school housing in Yeonhi-dong, and also took Tae Kwon Do lessons and an archery class on the intricacies of the Korean horn bow, which Jae Hwa uses in the novel.

“I loved our little neighborhood. So “Gilded” is full of those places I’d visit, shop, or eat at,” she said

Currently, Farley resides in Clearwater, Fla., with her husband and two children who were born in Korea. The sequel, “Silvern,” which partially takes place in North Korea, is scheduled to be released later this year – a book all readers can definitely look forward to after reading “Gilded.”