My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Thank you, Penguin Random House, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
You can meet a girl who seems angry and secretive and learn that it’s all just a front for a kind heart that’s been hurt too many times. — Jihoon
As a lover of K-pop and K dramas (Korean culture in general), this was my most anticipated release of 2019. The wait was agonizing. When the book was finally in my hands several days before my birthday, I felt so happy. In retrospect, I probably should have lowered my expectations because in the end, I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped.
Wicked Fox is heavily inspired by Korean mythology, particularly the tale of the gumiho or nine-tailed fox. This creature can take the form of a girl and is said to feed on human flesh or energy to survive. Miyoung, the heroine, is half gumiho. Not wanting to be a complete monster (like her mother), she only feasts on the energy (gi) of worthless men. One night, she saves the life of a human boy named Jihoon. Miyoung strangely loses her fox bead in the process finds herself drawn to him. A lot of things happen, including first love, mommy/daddy problems, and blood feuds. If you like fantastical K dramas like My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, you might enjoy this book. Fantasy and contemporary are my favorite genres, so my reading experience was mostly delightful.
As a whole, this debut is a rare gem; that fact that it exists is a wonder since it’s the first mainstream YA novel with 100% Korean protagonists living in Seoul. I’ve read some contemporary books written by Korean authors like Maureen Goo, but they’re set in the USA and the characters are half-bloods. So as far as Korean diversity is concerned, Wicked Fox is on a whole new level. If I were to rate this book as a fanboy or Koreaboo, I would give it five stars. However, since I can’t let my passion cloud my judgment, I also have to acknowledge this book’s shortcomings.
Miyoung and Jihoon had endearing interactions in school, and some of them were reminiscent of Twilight. I was a Twinerd back in high school, so reading this book made me a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it was inevitable in light of the dynamic wherein one was an ordinary human and the other had deadly powers. Miyoung was the brooding and mysterious Edward, while Jihoon was the frequently helpless Bella.
Regardless of the barriers between them, Miyoung and Jihoon wanted to be together. Their relationship was instalovey, and the author herself confirmed it on page 233 through Miyoung’s statement: “You can’t feel that way. It’s only been two months.” I don’t know if preemptively admitting a literary trope makes it less significant. In my case, it made it more remarkable. The second half of the book was like New Moon. Do you remember why Bella became so moody? Well, the same thing happened to Jihoon. xD Of course, this analysis is subjective and you should take it with a grain of salt.
In general, Miyoung and Jihoon were likable protagonists. I could easily imagine them as my favorite Korean celebrities. The former could be a fiesty Ha Ji-won, and the latter could be a flirty Lee Jong-suk. I only disliked their penchant for self-deprecation. Both MCs had self-esteem issues as a result of abandonment. I did feel sorry for them, but sometimes their negativity was too much. Nonetheless, considering the rate of depression in Korea today, you can see Miyoung’s and Jihoon’s problems in a different light and learn how to overcome them.
The climax was the best part of the book. I loved the two plot twists involving a man whom I had initially ignored. It’s impressive when side characters turn out to be crucial. The big confrontation was the most memorable scene in the novel. As for the ending, it wasn’t a case of deus ex machina. You really shouldn’t expect all love stories to have a happily ever after without any casualty.
Overall, Wicked Fox is perfect for anyone who’s invested in diverse stories. For me, reading this book was a meaningful way to immerse myself in Korean culture. I’ve never been to Seoul, but Miyoung and Jihoon’s story gave me a glimpse of its good and bad features. The YA community still needs more variety, so I’m glad that Kat Cho came up with something that we can call genuinely Asian. Despite its flaws, this novel will always be special to me.