Wicked Fox by Kat Cho was one of my most anticipated books of 2019. I was so excited to read a book set in Seoul, Korea with Korean main characters. And to make it even better, it’s a fantasy based on the Korean mythology of the gumiho. 2019 is seriously the year of Korean #ownvoices books, and as a Korean-American, I am HERE – FOR – IT! Now, I rated this 3.5 so I definitely enjoyed it so please don’t think I didn’t like this book. There was more positive than negative to my reading experience. It’s just that my hopes were EXTREMELY high and that’s on me.
I normally don’t do a Good and Bad list, but I honestly, don’t know how else I can explain my conflicted feelings about this book. This is going to be long, but this book justifies a long review since I tried so hard and begged so desperately to get an arc copy. I owe it to past self for all her effort. ^^ So here goes:
- Modern Seoul Setting: This was so much fun to see the story play out against the backdrop of Seoul. The mentions of all the food and districts was a lot of fun to read. I haven’t visited Korea since 2013, but this reminded me of all the fun things you can do in Seoul.
- Korean High School: Lots of the book is spent at school. I thought Kat Cho got the stereotypical Korean high school culture perfectly. I know some people reviewed the “mean girls” aspect of the book negatively, and that’s totally justifiable. But at the same time, the social hierarchy of tough kids who fight well and/or bullies running the school. Of course, this is horrible, but it’s pretty common in Korean schools. In fact, several years ago, bullying was getting so bad in schools, workplaces, etc. that the government does ongoing anti-bullying campaigns. There was even a girl group T-Ara that ended up disbanding after news that one of the members was being bullied by other members was revealed. While the reality of bullying is horrible, the fact that it was added in the story made it feel more culturally authentic.
- K-drama Tropes: I loved all the Korean drama tropes. They were so cute! Some tropes were: poor main characters who deliver food, someone dying, birth/family secrets. And my favorite 90s Korean drama/music video trop: motorcycle rides.
- Jihoon: There are two main characters, Jihoon and Miyoung. Jihoon is the male main character. He was so precious and sweet. He just wanted to be a good friend and grandson. His family life is sad and difficult, and he felt like a real person that you want to just root for.
- Yena: Miyoung’s mother, Yena, was scary as hell. And I loved her for it. We definitely needed more of her in the book.
- Korean mythos: Kat Cho did an amazing job mixing ancient Korean mythos in this modern city setting. She made it feel natural that we would have these gumiho, dokkaebi (Korean goblins) and shamans carrying around fox beads and talismans while running around Seoul.
- Miyoung: Our main characters wasn’t the greatest. The gumiho is meant to be alluring, seductive, and quite frankly, evil. Kat Cho brings up an interesting idea that gumihos were given this evil label because of misogyny, except this wasn’t explored much. Miyoung is half gumiho, half human so she fights with the idea that she has to kill so that she can survive. She tries to compromise by killing men who have done some kind of wrong or injustice to another. But I felt like Miyoung was just a little too pure. When I first heard of this book, I wanted a truly morally gray and/or ruthless villain. A complex characters who is dark but not completely irredeemable. I wanted that amazing redemption arc, and I didn’t get it!
- Writing: The writing felt off and stilted. There was a lot of telling instead of showing for the majority of the book. I think this is why I never really believed that Miyoung was dangerous. It also explains the lack of chemistry in the romance. I just never felt completely pulled in. That said, there are these pages in between chapters that gives information and details about the mythology that was awesome. They felt magical and atmospheric.
- Side Characters: Two of the side characters, Nara and her grandmother, were basically plot devices. They pop in at crucial times to move the plot one way but they are absent for the rest of the book.
- Epilogue: This was a mixed bag. I felt like something happened that completely contradicts something that happens at the ending climax scene. But I liked it because it’s a total WTF moment that sets up the second book really well. And I honestly can’t wait to read the second book now!
THE QUIRKS THAT ANNOYED ME, AND LIKELY NO ONE ELSE WAS BOTHERED
There were a couple of things about the book that made my reading experience not as enjoyable – and that was the inconsistent use of Konglish (informal mix of Korean and English) and direct translation of phrases/idioms used throughout the book. Mainly in the dialogue. Now, this is 100% because I speak and understand Korean that it bothered me. It may not even be an issue with other readers. And other Korean readers might not have an issue either!
Kat Cho uses a lot of Korean words, phrases, and idioms in the book. I didn’t mind the Korean words since these are tied so closely to the mythology. Words like gumiho or dokkaebi. I also loved the use of the Korean names of using halmeoni for grandma, and putting the last name before the first name. But the book is full of inconsistencies. When a friend was calling Jihoon they used the informal, casual tone “Jihoon-ah.” That -ah is really Korean. But then in other places, Cho uses “Mrs. Nam” when someone is talking respectfully to Jihoon’s grandma. Why use Korean in some places and English in other places? It made the dialogue feel so disjointed to me.
Another issue I had were the idioms that were directly translated. For example, when Miyoung introduced herself to the class, she says, “Please take care of me.” This sounds sooo weird in English but translated in Korean it’s a common greeting when meeting new people in a class or work setting. Also, Jihoon and Miyoung both say “Call?” “Call.” This the equivalent of the English idiom of saying “Deal?” “Deal.” Or when characters would say “Ya!” to call someone, which is the equivalent of “Hey!” I understand that Cho uses these purposely to emphasize that these characters are Korean, living in Korea, but I found this so distracting. In most translated books, an equivalent idiom is often used so that readers get the most accurate meaning. Because a lot of the dialogue was written this way, I kept reading a sentence, translating it in Korean in my head and then wondering why Cho wrote a particular sentence in a certain way. I started to get used to it, but the use of inconsistent Konglish distracted me for more than half of the book.
All that said, I’m still so incredibly thankful to Kat Cho for writing this story since I never thought I would ever read a YA book that even included this much Korean words and culture at all. And she filled this book with so much fantastic Korean-ness!