I have waited a long time to read fantasy books that do not have their roots in western mythology. Not to say that they haven't existed before, they have, but they haven't been this popular. Wicked Fox by Kat Cho is the story of a gumiho—a nine-tailed fox that takes the shape of a woman, in Korean mythology. Japanese mythology also has a similar creature which is named a kitsune. The reason I felt instantly drawn to this book was because of the lure of finally exploring Asian mythology and also because I watched the episode “Good Hunting” of Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots which shows us a huli jing—a fox that turns into a woman (not with nine tails, however). And Wicked Fox fulfilled my every expectation of good storytelling, genuine characters and plot, and so many twists that I did not see coming.
Gu Miyoung is an 18-year-old (according to Korean tradition) girl who goes to school, does her homework, tries to be a good student. She is human, well half-human. Her true self is a gumiho, a mythical nine-tailed fox, who feeds on men’s gi (energy) to survive. However, rather than taking the gi violently, she feeds gently, lulling her victims to an endless sleep. She chooses her victims carefully—criminals, murderers, rapists, etc. She has no desire to feed, yet must do it to survive. And this is what makes her instantly likeable. She can’t change her nature, she must kill, but she tries to do it in the most humane way possible.
Everything changes when she moves to Seoul and while protecting a boy from a dokkaebi (Korean goblins), she loses her yeowu guseul—her fox bead, said to contain the soul of a gumiho. She keeps this to herself. However, the next day, at her new school she finds the boy she had saved staring right at her. Clichéd? Yes. But not for one moment does it feel anything other than the natural progression of the story. This is one of the reasons I loved Wicked Fox, that the two characters who are very obviously meant to fall in love do not do so in a fashion that feels manufactured. This has been my problem in quite a few books that I’ve recently read, that the love that forces the sun to rise in the west (figuratively) seems like it was created out of thin air, with no evidence to support the claim. Wicked Fox, however, does this wonderfully. It gives us characters that we can immediately relate, understand, and find in ourselves or people around us. They feel so real. The characters are not in the story because they have odd, randomly selected quirks or gimmicks; they are in it just because. They are human and as real and rare as any one of us.
The book takes you on a ride that you think you can see the path of, but that path turns out to be an illusion and the real path makes your toes curl as you leap. Imagine my surprise when the plot point I imagined would happen at the end of the book, happens in the middle it. Like a grand mid-season finale that leaves to reeling and wanting more. And the actual season finale is one that no one saw coming.
All that being said, I do not believe the book is perfect. No, it does not have lazy writing or foolish plot twists. It’s lacking in something that I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know whether that says more about me or the writing of the author. Maybe I wanted it to be a bit more elaborate at times; but simultaneously, that is not my biggest concern. I guess I will figure it out later. But oh gods, the epilogue! Can't wait to see what Kat Cho brings us in the next instalment of this series.
To summarise, Wicked Fox is an amazing look into the previously unexplored, by mainstream media, Korean mythology and I loved every second of it. 10/10 would recommend.