I’m sure one day I’ll come across an Asian mythology inspired fantasy and not be immediately tempted to add it to my TBR, but today is not the day! Wicked Fox caught my eye for several reasons, not least of them the fact it features the gumiho, or nine-tailed fox demon, a creature of legend from Korea. The story is also set in the present day, and I was quite curious to see how its traditional folktale elements would be combined with the modern.
For 18-year-old Gu Miyoung, a half-human shapeshifting gumiho, immortality comes at a steep price. In order to survive, she must feed on the gi, or life energy of men. Unpleasant business to be sure, but it must be done, though making murderers and other evil men her exclusive prey is one way Miyoung seeks to assuage her conscience. And in the bustling city of Seoul with its steady supply of wretched criminals, it’s as good a place as any to feed and to hide. By day, she’s a quiet and unassuming teenager about to start classes at her local high school, but in the night by the light of the full moon, she’s a reluctant hunter, searching for her next meal. To choose her targets, Miyoung has sought out the assistance of a young shaman named Nara, who can communicate with the ghosts of the murdered to find their killers.
But one night following a feeding, Miyoung encounters a Jihoon, a boy from school, out walking his dog and completely oblivious to the fact he’s about to become a goblin’s late-night snack. Miyoung rescues Jihoon, and inadvertently reveals her true nature in doing so, losing her fox bead to him and creating a connection between their life forces. At school, the experience has drawn them together, though Miyoung remains wary about letting any human boy get too close. From her capricious mother Yena, Miyoung has learned that she cannot always trust the gumiho within, the otherworldly part of her that is always volatile, that always hungers. And with a part of her soul gone with her bead, her situation is also growing even more desperate by the day.
Let me first start by saying there are parts of Wicked Fox I really enjoyed, but also parts that I thought were weaker or could be reworked. Namely, I loved all the supernatural aspects. If you enjoy urban fantasy, I think you will also find this world inhabited by legendary spirits, demons, ghosts and monsters greatly appealing. And the best part? All these paranormal elements are incorporated into the enchanting, vibrant setting of modern-day Seoul.
In fact, I wish we could have seen more of this side of Wicked Fox. But the novel also had its lulls, including the long sections devoted to high school dramatics. I thought the narrative dwelled too long on Miyoung and Jihoon at school and their time in getting to know each other, as it felt like in these chapters, nothing else significant happened at all. It also took me some time to warm up to Miyoung, mostly because in general I find self-pity to be a very irritating and unbecoming trait in YA protagonists. Simply put, at times her actions and dialogue contained too much angst and woe-is-me for my liking. Needless to say, Jihoon was a real sweetie, an infinite font of patience to put up with her some of her crap. That said, I’ve seen some reviewers describe this book by making comparisons to Korean soap opera dramas, so it is quite possible for Miyoung and Jihoon’s relationship to be a tribute to those.
Thankfully, the second half of the novel picked up considerably, with more intense conflicts and higher stakes that really blew me away. The intrigues and reveals towards the end made it all worth it, connecting all the threads established earlier about Miyoung’s past and dropping some pretty big bombshells about her family. Not to mention it was immensely satisfying to finally get some actual answers as well as the much-needed release from tensions simmering beneath the surface since the intro. This went a long way in making up for some my frustrations over the slower chapters that dragged down the middle of the book.
Overall, I would recommend Wicked Fox by Kat Cho for fans of urban fantasy and paranormal YA, especially if you are fascinated by East Asian traditions, cultures, and mythology. After a stellar beginning, the story took some time to develop, but time and patience will pay off in a big way in the end with plenty of delightful revelations and a satisfying conclusion. I was glad to learn that there will be a sequel to follow this one, because I can’t wait to read more set in this world.