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Book Review: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Book Review: Wicked Fox by Kat ChoWicked Fox (Gumiho, #1) by Kat Cho
Genres: Fantasy, Folklore
Pages: 429
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on June 25, 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1984812343

A fresh and addictive fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul.

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret--she's a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead--her gumiho soul--in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl--he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He's drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon's.

It has taken me a long time to collect my thoughts about this debut book. It’s not that I didn’t like it, because there IS so much to love about Wicked Fox. But I wasn’t sure how I fully felt about it once I turned the final page. There was a period of several months where I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it or fell somewhere in the middle.

I want to stress that this undecided feeling isn’t always a bad thing; some of my favorite films are ones that leave me in the middle, uncertain of my feelings and full of conflicted thoughts. I am a sucker for stories that torment me. However, the real question that makes or breaks this whole experience is: will I read Wicked Fox again?

Let’s unpack this kdrama-inspired urban fantasy to find out.

Shout out: A massive THANK YOU to Megan Manzano for sending me her copy of Wicked Fox to read and review. Girl always gives me great YA recs, and regardless of of how I feel about this one, I’m still thankful for the chance to read it.

Everything I Loved About Wicked Fox

“Her life is in his hands. His heart is in hers. One hundred days to
choose who lives.”

Wicked Fox, Kat Cho

Explores the folktale of the Gumiho — or Korea’s nine-tailed fox. To be honest, I’m here for the foxy folklore. Wicked Fox’s promise to blend K-culture with its traditional lore of the Gumiho was too hard to resist — and I loved this element of the story the most. From the very first page, we know Miyoung is a Gumiho, a fox-spirit that consumes the energy of me (or in Miyoung’s case…evil men). We get the historical details behind the fox folklore, as well as the social dynamics that shaped them, such as human prejudices and the complex nature of the Korean fox. My favorite snippets were the attitude differences between the younger and older generations. The elders were far more superstitious and knowledgeable about Gumiho, whereas the teens believed the stories to be entirely fiction. I loved this clash between old Korea and New Korean, traditional and modern.

Wicked Fox also explore other elements of Korean Folklore, such as Dokkaebi (a type of Goblin — spirits or entities — that possess great power), the use of magic, and shamans.

A word on Gumiho: I’ve seen some reviewers online comparing the Gumiho with Kitsune (the Japanese fox). However, these are not the same thing. While they do share certain similarities, there are many cultural differences between the representation of these foxes that should be observed. But this is a chat for another day.

Set in modern-day Seoul, South Korea. As a lover of Korean pop culture — from beauty trends to television dramas to music (BTS!) — this was my favorite part of the whole book. Well, second favorite part, but who’s counting? I loved the representation of the culture, from food to family dynamics. The vivid descriptions of the city at night gave the whole setting a very supernatural vibe.

Fierce, encouraging friendships. Let me just say this: no matter what Wicked Fox lacks, I will always love and support the friendships in it. As much as I love a good romantic subplot, platonic relationships that cross boundaries and challenge characters reign supreme for me. Wicked Fox surprised me. I loved the friendship between Somin and Jihoon. Having been friends since they were babies, they had an understanding of each other and accepted/embraced the differences of the other. But this wasn’t what surprised me about their bond; it was the way their relationship remained fluid as they met challenges, jealousy, and obstacles of growing up. And when Miyoung is thrown into the mix, I love how her very presence shifted all the relationships in the book.

Reverse damsel in distress; the girl saves the guy. Miyoung owns her actions; she doesn’t play up the “I’m a monster” routine or fall victim to pity, which is what I liked about her. And despite being half-human, she doesn’t allow this fact the opportunity to drag her down. No. She’s the girl who ends up saving Jihoon from a Goblin within the first few chapters, and I like that she consistently does this throughout Wicked Fox. There’s a bad habit in YA to weaker female MCs once she meets the love interest; you can see this across the board in books, as well as in both anime and kdramas. But Miyoung never loses this in Wicked Fox.. She’s consistently strong-willed, practical, and protective of herself (as well as those she comes to care for).

What I Wasn’t Crazy About

The lack of stable guardians or parental figures. I know, I know! It’s so weird for me to nit-pick over this, but I feel it needs to be addressed. While I loved the friendships that blossomed in Wicked Fox, I found myself having many “what the heck” moments over the parents. Let me preface this by saying I know quite a few people from South Korean. I’ve watched Korean Drama shows. So I expected the relationships between the parents and the teen characters to be very different from American ones.

But as I read, I couldn’t help noticing how utterly screwed up ALL the parental figures were. Well, Jihoon’s grandmother and Somin’s mom were amazing; everyone else was either dead, magical, bloodthirsty, or in a gang. Jihoon’s mother abandoned him, and until the last few chapters, wants nothing to do with him. Miyoung’s mother is cray-cray. I mean, you get all the reasons why toward the end of the book, but her excuses seem…weak. Even the main cop, who becomes somewhat of a father figure to Jihoon, turns out to be not-so-nice.

Most of the characters are either villains or seriously disturbed due to a past trauma, usually one involving magic or gangs or death. I don’t know. It just didn’t feel realistic that there were hardly any sane, normal adults present in the book, and this was only emphasized as the list for messed up adults grew, leaving the teens to be the sanest of them all.

The Romantic Subplot. I was so into the friendship blossoming between Jihoon and Miyoung, but that’s where my shipping ended. I really wanted to get behind these two as a couple. Their personalities were well-coupled and they learned how to deal with the other. However, there just wasn’t enough of a spark there for me. The whole romance felt forced, and it lacked the kind of passion I prefer in paranormal romances. I can’t remember their kiss, let alone a single bonding moment between them….which is troublesome, in my opinion.

Part of the problem for me was Miyoung. For about 75% of the book, she’s aggressive toward Jihoon. You don’t get a peek at her internal thoughts. You barely get body language to express attraction. It feels like her sole reason for being standoffish is because she views her human side as a weakness, not because she actually likes him. And it doesn’t help that he only seems smitten with her because she’s a Gumiho.

By the time they do end up bonding, the whole relationship is a beautiful friendship. But it’s not love.

The Pacing. Wicked Fox kicks off pretty solid. I mean, I wasn’t crazy about the prologue, but I loved the opening with Miyoung on the hunt to suck the life out of an evil jerk. There’s voice here. The writing isn’t mind-blowing or lyrical, but I loved the simplicity of it. However, after the first chapter or so, the pacing of the book dragged. I remember the plot points feeling predictable and unsurprising, mostly because it took forever to get to them. At some point, I thought the climax had already happened, and then was disappointed to discover the book was still going on.

Final Thoughts & Verdict

There’s so much to love about Wicked Fox: Korean culture and folklore, a vibrant/foreign urban setting, a strong female character, fierce friendships, and villains galore. However, between the paper-thin romance (which should have been a friendship, in my humble opinion) and the painfully scattered pacing, I really struggled not to DNF it.

To be honest, it was difficult for me to review Wicked Fox because I’d been such a dedicated fan of it prior to release. It was devastating for me to discover that I couldn’t wait for the book to end, that there was a complete and utter lack of excitement after reading it.

So if you enjoy all the positives of the book I’ve listed, I still recommend you give Wicked Fox a whirl. Who knows….you might love it. Or hate it. Or be undecided. That’s for you to decide, but for me, this is one book I likely won’t reread again.

Is it Worthy of Valhalla?
The Characters
The world
The plot
The feels
The cover
The writing

Did you read Wicked Fox by Kat Cho? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and reactions to this debut!

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Year Of Asian Stories
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