For lovers of K-dramas, enemies-to-friends relationships, and supernatural intrigue, Kat Cho’s debut novel Wicked Fox is a lush, heartfelt YA urban fantasy set in Seoul, South Korea that explores Korean folklore surrounding the gumiho (a nine-tailed fox spirit).
The story of Wicked Fox follows Gu Miyoung, an eighteen year-old girl who is secretly a gumiho. As a gumiho, Miyoung must devour the souls of men in order to survive. She hates every second of it. However, one night Miyoung encounters a boy being attacked by a goblin in the woods and decides to save his life, losing her fox bead (the source of her gumiho powers) in the process.
Enter Jihoon, a boy who now knows that all the stories his halmeoni (grandma) told him about fox spirits and the supernatural world are true because a beautiful girl with nine glowing fox tails saved his life from a forest goblin. He also discovers that the new transfer student at his school is that same gumiho. Despite the potential danger, Jihoon is inexplicably drawn to her.
A fragile bond is formed between the two as time passes and blooms into something more. However, when Miyoung attempts to reabsorb her gumiho soul, the attempt fails catastrophically, leaving Miyoung with only one hundred days to make the choice between Jihoon’s life or her own immortality.
What makes this book stand out are the realistic characters. Kat Cho writes young adult characters authentically. Miyoung is an ice queen, and a damaged one at that. Despite intentionally attending school, Miyoung keeps to herself and pushes everyone away, afraid of people finding out that she is actually a monster. In fact, Miyoung probably hates herself more than anyone. She carries the guilt of every person she’s killed in order to keep herself alive, and she even only hunts morally corrupt men and evildoers. It is satisfying to see Miyoung resist Jihoon’s attempts at friendship for a significant portion of the novel, because that is how a person like Miyoung would most likely handle that situation. I appreciate the slow burn rather than the more commonplace “instalove” found in novels these days.
As for Jihoon, he is my favorite character. First of all, we are both afraid of frogs, and second, we both main the same champion (Ahri) in League of Legends. But similarities aside, I adore that Jihoon is not a stereotypical schoolboy love interest. Jihoon is charming and well liked (and boy does he know it), but he is also a dork and lazy. He skips school to play in PC cafes with his buddy and is often late to help his grandma with delivering food from their restaurant. Yet behind his bubbly personality is a deep anger and sadness due to being abandoned by both his mom and dad as a little kid. Cho allows these deep emotions to subtly influence Jihoon’s actions and personality. By expertly infusing real emotion into her characters, Cho makes them feel alive.
Finally, the themes of Wicked Fox are incredibly important and relevant, especially in a time of ever-growing isolation from others. Finding a community of people who will love you for who you are is a common thread in this story. Miyoung exemplifies this theme the most by slowly breaking free from her self-imposed isolation and opening herself up to Jihoon’s friendship as well as several other characters. Miyoung thrives when she is not alone (unlike what she originally thinks). Another theme I found compelling is that of parent-child relationships. Both Miyoung and Jihoon have nontraditional relationships with their mothers that are dysfunctional and cold. Yet, Miyoung loves her mother while Jihoon hates his. Also, both moms would say they do what they do because they love their kids. I appreciated this focus on how parental love functions within each family and can look different than what we typically think what love looks like.
Overall, I highly recommend Wicked Fox if you are looking for a light fantasy with K-drama influences, an immersive setting, lovable characters, and important themes.