It’s nighttime at Hanyang and women all over, whether those shopping in the market or those staying at home, eagerly listen to a romance novel being read entitled Moonlight Love Affair. As each sentence is narrated, the women’s faces are filled with excitement as they squeal with delight and eagerly wait in anticipation for the next lines.
Our titular leading lady, Hae Ryung, is revealed to be reading another book (“The Sorrows of Young Werther”) inside a house to several noble women. They become appalled when they learn that the story ends with the main character’s death and they kick her out without payment for reading such a ludicrous tale. We get a glimpse of her bold character as she sneaks inside the same house to leave a couple of erotic novels for the noblewoman’s husband to discover instead as revenge.
Somewhere else in Hanyang, the scene shifts to the King’s palace. An eunuch and a court lady are caught together in a shed by a senior eunuch (Sam Bo). While being berated, a man (Prince Lee Rim) suddenly appears before them and starts asking prying questions about their relationship. The 2 don’t recognize him but answer him anyway. It is revealed that the Prince will use their answers as research for a novel that he is writing. He seems truly intrigued with such details since he himself has no experience yet when it comes to falling in love.
When morning comes, it is revealed that Hae Ryung is actually of noble status and even when she haves a hard time conducting her book readings, she truly enjoys doing it as she learns new things. She attends a marriage preparation class, distracted and uninterested, where she is scolded for “showing off” her intelligence. Women should not speak out what they know and remain a modest being. Later that night, Hae Ryung has a drink with her brother (Jae Kyung) and expresses her frustrations about not wanting to take bridal classes anymore. Her brother explains that being an old maid could get him into trouble and that he is trying his best to find her a suitable husband.
They are interrupted over their meal as her brother, who turns out to be a ranked official, attends an urgent meeting lead by one of the King’s advisers. He called them together to seize a particular book, The Story of Ho Dam, before it spreads all over Joseon. Jae Kyung looks worried and looks as if he does know what the book is about despite confessing that he had no knowledge about it. Ooohh, the 1st sign of conflict😏
Hae Ryung gets a clock fixed but has it stolen by a little boy in the market. She catches him redhanded and follows him back to where he lives not knowing that he is actually a slave of a rich noble. Her attempt to save him from the men who has him captive is futile but I have a feeling they’ll meet again soon.
Prince Lee Rim wants to leave the palace to see for his own eyes the raw and actual reactions people have towards his book. It turns out that he is Maehwa, the famous romance novelist whose book (Moonlight Love Affair) is beloved by women. He and Sam Bo are able to leave the palace (with the permission of his older brother, Crown Prince Lee Jin) and go to a bookstore in Hanyang to fulfill his wish. He is pleased and bursting with glee as he observes different women smile and relish his book with much gusto.
As he walks inside the bookstore, he catches a look at Hae Ryung reading and is immediately smitten by her. He slowly walks up to her but is shocked when she suddenly stifles a yawn. She brutally shares her opinion that the book is boring and a waste of paper, much to the prince’s chagrin. He chases her down the street and they engage in an argument about true beauty with Hae Ryung having the last word as she tells him that the more he defends Maehwa, the more she’ll assume that he is the writer.
We are then introduced to Officer Min, who without a word goes to see the King when 2 other historians purposely made their voices louder that they were kicked out by someone who wanted to have a solo audience with the King. This is not allowed because by law, a historian ought to be present when the King converses with someone to record/transcribe their conversations.
It’s actually the adviser who called the secret meeting in the earlier episode who is talking with the King. He urges him to approve a decree to establish an Office of Banned Books and shows him the same book that he wanted to seize. The adviser is finally declared to be Officer Min’s father, second state councilor Min Ik Pyeong, as he dismisses his son.
The same thugs and noble who Hae Ryung had an encounter with are threatening the bookstore owner about being able to meet Maehwa to get more money. To avoid getting killed by them, he comes up with a plan to do a book reading by a fake Maehwa since the writer doesn’t reveal his/her face anyway. He enlists the help of Hae Ryung to pretend to be Maehwa just for 1 night; she initially refuses but when he offers to tear up the contract of the boy who is tied down as a slave, she relents.
The Office of Banned Books has been approved but the Crown Prince is furious that this passed without his consent when is already acting regent. Along with The Story of Ho Dam, unfortunately, romance novels and fiction stories are banned as well.
Hae Ryung reads Moonlight Love Affair to several female attendees in the planned book reading event. As she is signing autographs, she is surprised when a fan asks her how she came up with a specific scene in the book. She stammers for an answer and gives back the book to the fan but she was surprised when the person grabbed her hand and took a look at her. She recoils in shock probably from having someone see her actual face and recognizing that it was the man who she met at the bookstore. Prince Lee Rim is also bewildered as he remembers her to be the same woman he met at the bookstore.
Even in today’s society, women who are not married past a certain age are viewed as pitiful or are constantly set up with blind dates. There’s nothing wrong in wanting your loved one to find love but a woman’s worth shouldn’t be determined by their civil status. I know it was a different time back then so it’ll be exciting to see how Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung will address a woman’s independence and intelligence as an asset rather than a flaw. I’m already loving Hae Ryung’s spunkiness and how she applies the knowledge she learns in books in real life situations.
I’m not sure what the big deal is about the book that needs to be banned, but I’m guessing it’s to cover up something scandalous that happened in the past. There’s a parallel to the King and Crown Prince Lee Jin being at odds with each other as there’s also tension between the Second State Councilor and Officer Min. There’s an obvious strain in the father-son relationship and it does make me curious if Crown Prince Lee Jin really doesn’t know anything about his father’s past schemes. As for Officer Min, I feel like he is a good guy who is just doing his job but if he discovers an ugly truth, I’m on the fence on whether he will side with his father or if he’ll report the truth.
Prince Lee Rim is such an innocent, happy-go-lucky character that I want to give the actor (Cha Eun Woo) playing him the benefit of the doubt in certain scenes. His expression just switches between a surprised, doe eyed stare to a wistful smiling person. Writing is an important aspect of his character and for Hae Ryung to burst his bubble that he can have at least one critic should be a reality check for him that you can’t please everyone… and it’s okay! I can’t wait for more interactions between them as I’m certain that Hae Ryung will be influential for him to grow up.