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.
My excitement over this book glowed within the few first chapters, then flamed, then just as quickly, fell as ash to the ground somewhere around the halfway mark. Afterwards, I was crawling across every sentence with the peak of each hard-won page unveiling but another page beyond, unable to worm free of the yoke of that most dreaded mire of the human emotions: boredom. Frankly, this whole experience is but a handful of broken moments scattered through my mind—the story seemed to slid off of me like rainwater from a tin roof the minute I finished the book.
It goes like this: Miyoung is half gumiho, a nine-tailed fox demon, and her hunger for gi—“the energy that emanated from all living things”—was a death drive that demanded more to feed its fire. She and her mother have made the road their home; living their lives in fits and starts, stops and goes. The mother spared no effort in impressing on her daughter how vile and perilous humans are, and thus Miyoung hardened her heart, convincing herself that she is legion—needing no one’s company but her own—and clinging to the reminder that she only siphons gi from evildoers, whenever her conscience struck.
Miyoung met their move back to Seoul with a scowl, knowing it would be yet another cold and tedious stay, but when she meets her careless and affable high school classmate, Jihoon, her mother’s tight face—always louring over her—flakes away and Miyoung forgets—temporarily at least—that the shining ideal she’d only dreamed longingly of from afar was out of her reach.
When Ahn Jihoon stumbles upon Miyoung—in her gumiho form—killing a dokkaebi in the woods, he’d almost convinced himself it had not happened, that it had been a vivid dream, drawn from his grandmother’s descriptions and too much imagination. Soon, though, the incident ceased to seem a thing of the imagination and took on a horrible life of its own. There was darkness in Miyoung, and treachery, that much he knew. She is teetering on the brink of something that will unmake her and he might just be unlucky enough to be standing in the blast zone when it all went off.
While Cho offers an original set up for the first book of her urban fantasy series—dazzlingly expanding the YA scope by introducing a vibrant representation of Korean mythology that is rife with the supernatural, the unexplained, the mystical—she mostly skims the surface of her premise.
Cho’s story ping-pongs back and forth between Miyoung and Jihoon in brief chapters (some only two or three pages) that move the story steadily, granting each scene enough room to breathe, but the sometimes confusingly ordered narrative, cyclical plot elements, and repetitive language dilute the suspense instead of intensifying it, thus diminishing the novel’s impact.
Wicked Fox, ultimately, feels at once scanty and overstuffed: the author introduces a world that begs for more page time and leaves plenty to explore, she paints her characters in shifting shades of moral gray that are no less sharp because of it but a bit more poison in the pen would have helped drawn them more and made their viewpoints more engaging, moments of frantic action and violence crop up here and there, together with flashes of levity and camp, but many scenes don’t serve any purpose other than to slam on the brakes, and, as freshly as they’re approached, the author also doesn’t always keep the clichés from falling like soft rain. I could feel my will to read leaching from me, bled away by the relentlessly slow build and lack of major plot movement, and the ending didn’t exactly inspire any spurt of giddiness in me for the next installment.
But I think the main quibble that drained away any remaining pleasure was how the whole story quickly lapsed into tepid melodrama after the romance overwhelmed the machinations of the plot and the characters. Maybe it’s just me—I am forever aggravated when the romance overtakes the story and eventually envelopes a fantasy novel. I grew dissastisfied with the lack of communication, the endless back and forth, and it’s what really kicked me off the story.
Unfortunately, I think this is where I kiss this series adieu. Don’t let my opinion discourage you, though. If you don’t mind fantasy novels that are overly reliant on romance, give this book a try!